Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Mr. Aquino, Stop the Killings!

Streetwise/Business World
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The cold-blooded assassination of Bayan Muna Aklan coordinator and Lezo town councilor Fernando Baldomero last Monday is forcing the hand of President Benigno Aquino to not only denounce extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and promise to go after their perpetrators but to deal with its obvious link with the government’s counterinsurgency program called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).

Will he acknowledge it as something he has inherited but abhors and intends to put an end to? More important, what he is going to do about it, knowing full well that the people, his acknowledged “Boss”, would demand more than the same avowals and promises they had likewise heard from the murderous Arroyo regime?

Mrs. Arroyo herself was forced to make some general condemnation of EJKs after the indignant reaction to the fulsome praise she heaped on a notorious general accused precisely of ordering such killings. Rising concern in the international community about the unabated murders of unarmed activists and other progressives may also have pushed Mrs. Arroyo to appoint a feisty chairperson for the nonetheless toothless human rights commission.

But there have been no credible investigations; no arrests; no successful prosecutions; and most of all, no acknowledgement that EJKs have become part and parcel of government’s counterinsurgency operations.

Thus although the numbers of EJKs and other gross human rights violations came down for a while, these started to climb up once more especially as the government’s self-imposed deadline for ending the insurgency drew near.

Mr. Aquino’s pronouncements so far about national security and peace talks and his latest address to the Philippine military in turn-over ceremonies have fallen far short of sending an unequivocal message of his administration’s commitment to uphold human rights.

Despite the gravity of the problem, it is not clear at this point whether part of building “strong, capable and disciplined security forces” includes weeding out those guilty of EJKs and their cover-up. Will Mr. Aquino give them the same leeway as did Mrs. Arroyo or will he relentlessly go after them, in as much as he is called upon to uncompromisingly seek the truth and achieve justice with regard to all the anti-people crimes of her regime?

Even with regard to the so-called Truth Commission, Mr. Aquino has so far been quite general in its announced goals, i.e. unearth the truth about anomalies under the Arroyo government, without mention of human rights violations, despite local and international outrage over hundreds of unsolved cases and clear signs that these are continuing despite a change in leadership.

The ambiguity in Mr. Aquino’s policy statements leaves much room for perpetuating the climate of impunity that persists to this day. As if on cue, the military spokesperson’s blanket denial of any AFP involvement in Mr. Baldomero’s killing and the innuendo that the NPA are more likely to be the culprits behind it reveals the military’s unchanged attitude and line on EJKs.

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