A student activist was killed last February 15 while the United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions was meeting with executives of the National Security Council. This has led human rights groups to conclude that there is no end in sight for political killings in the country.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Just as Philip Alston, United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions, met with executives of the National Security Council (NSC) in Quezon City on Feb 15, another student activist was killed in Camarines Norte.
Farly Alcantara, 22, a graduating student of the Camarines Norte State College in Daet, Camarines Norte (350 kms. south of Manila), was shot to death by still unidentified men in front of his school at around 9:45 p.m. He was an active member of the progressive student organization League of Filipino Students (LFS) which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) accused as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The murder of Alcantara shows that political killings will not stop with the visit of Alston, human rights worker Marie Hilao-Enriquez said. The UN representative arrived in the country on Feb. 10 and is on a 10-day visit here. Alston is one of 43 experts in the UN who is tasked to investigate political killings.
“Wala kaming ilusyon na ang UN ang makakapagpahinto sa killings. Gobyerno lang ang makakapagpahinto ng mga pagpatay dahil ang gobyerno ang gumagawa nyan,” (We have no illusion that the UN can stop the killings. Only the government that perpetuates it can stop it.) Hilao-Enriquez, secretary general of the human rights watchdog Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) said.
From Jan. 2001 to Feb. 15, 2006, Karapatan has recorded 833 individuals killed – the latest being Alcantara – allegedly by state security forces and its death squad.
After the visit, Alston is expected to submit a country report to the UN. The latter, however, does not have the power to sanction governments that are proven to violate human rights.
International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) president Edre Olalia said that the UN report cannot in any way be used as evidence in court should any of the victims’ families decide to file a case against the perpetrators.
Despite this, Erlinda Manano, mother of murdered activist Isaias, said the Alston visit is a “bright hope” for the families of the victims of political killings in the country. “Nakakapagpalakas ng loob,” (It strengthens one’s resolve) was how she described the UN investigation.
She said she has lost all hope that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration could give justice to the death of Isaias who was killed April 23, 2004 in Calapan, the city capital of the island-province of Mindoro Oriental. “Pinapatay nila (government) ang hustisya at binabaon ang katotohanan gaya ng pagpatay at pagbaon nila sa anak ko. Ang hangad namin ay managot ang may kasalanan.” (They kill justice and bury the truth just like the way they killed and buried the body of my son. What we want is for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.)
After getting the flak from local and international community about the spate of political killings in the country, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration created the Philippine National Police (PNP)-led Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission, a special investigating body headed by former justice Jose Melo.
Families of the victims, however, considered the police and Melo investigations tainted and biased, Hilao-Enriquez said. “What the victims’ families and the human rights community wanted all along was an independent body to investigate the killings.”
Hilao-Enriquez told Alston in a meeting that the victims’ families want to testify before him because they see the UN representative as an independent expert. “The victims’ families want to tell Alston what they feel and what they have gone through after their loved ones have been killed.”
Aside from being a source of strength to the victims’ families, Olalia said that the UN visit is a “clear manifestation that the level and gravity of the extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions in the country has reached a very high and alarming state that compelled the UN special rapporteur to come over and see for himself the situation. It is also a product of the painstaking efforts of human rights organizations and victims to bring their plight to the international fora and a reflection of the serious concern of the international community about the sad state of human rights in the country.”
In 2006, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) and the European Union (EU), among others, expressed concern over the murders and enforced disappearances in the Philippines under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The EU has, in fact, expressed its willingness to help the Philippine government investigate the reports of violations of human rights especially in 2005 and 2006.
Olalia said that the EU helped in persuading the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to finally allow the UN visit. “The government was compelled to invite the UN.”
Olalia and Hilao-Enriquez were part of the Philippine delegation that attended the UN Human Rights Council Second Session in Geneva in August 2006. They also met with the Finish and French missions and the EU. “We asked these countries to always put the issue of political repression in their agenda with the Philippine government,” Hilao-Enriquez said.
The Alston visit has therefore become a most anticipated event in the country especially by the victims’ families who have long waited for an independent body to investigate the killings in the country, Hilao-Enriquez said.
However, she said that the government had tried to sabotage the Alston visit. Since the visit was upon the invitation of the government, Hilao-Enriquez said Alston’s schedule was filled with meetings and sessions with government offices. Meetings with the victims were scheduled only for the whole day of Feb. 14 and short visits to Baguio City in the north and Davao City in the south.