This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (
Vol. VI, No. 46, Dec. 24-30, 2006



Cries for Justice, Prayers of Hope

If the extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances are indeed part of state policy and the government’s counterinsurgency program, it is then impossible for victims and their relatives to obtain justice under the current dispensation.


Despite two investigation bodies – the PNP’s Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission - formed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to investigate allegations of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations, families of victims and human rights groups who have taken up the cases generally remain skeptical. Police investigators and military authorities have insinuated that some of them have connections with the underground Left while the commission headed by a Supreme Court (SC) ex-justice has berated them for “non-cooperation.”

The victims’ families, organized under Hustisya, and human rights watchdogs have reasons to be skeptical - mainly, that the investigations seem to have already been prejudged and that the investigation bodies were only out to clear the names of both the President and her security forces from any accountability.

Likewise, families of victims have had frustrations with police and NBI authorities whose investigations failed to pursue any leads, or simply dismissed many cases as common crimes or an offshoot of internal conflicts. There were not a few instances when police probers said they could not dig into cases that were “military operations.”

In its report to the Melo Commission on Sept. 7, 2006, task force head Police Deputy Director General Avelino Razon testified that they have recorded “111 party list militant members” killed from January 2001 to Aug. 31, 2006. He also said, however, that soldiers were implicated in only five cases of political killings.

The Melo Commission, formed on Aug. 21, 2006 and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose A. R. Melo, is widely perceived to lack credibility and has yet to complete its investigation at this writing. Its problem of credibility stems from the former justice’s association with the Macapagal-Arroyo family and the fact that two of its members, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencio Zuno and Nestor Mataring, Director of the National Bureau of Investigation, are from the Department of Justice (DoJ) whose secretary, Raul Gonzalez, had dismissed the killings as a “collateral damage.” The other member, Nelia Teodoro-Gonzales, a Regent of the University of the Philippines, is also said to be close to the President.


To top it all, while survivors and families of victims of the politically-motivated cases were expecting heads to roll with the formation of the Melo Commission, all that former Justice Melo could assure the families of victims is that it would “recommend appropriate prosecution and legislative proposals…(leading to) eradicating the root cases of extra-judicial killings.”

In its first hearing, the Melo Commission had Deputy Director General Razon and AFP officials including former General Palparan as the first witnesses. The same witnesses took turns lumping Bayan Muna and other organizations, from which several of those killed or reported missing came from, with the CPP-NPA.

Razon told the Commission members: “Unless and until we accept this, we will not be able to solve this 37-year-old insurgency that we have in this country…Let us not be fooled into believing that these are different organizations.”

Thus, Hustisya, which groups families of victims of summary executions and forced disappearances, as well as Karapatan and other NGOs are prompted to believe that Task Force Usig seems to be more concerned with justifying the killings and vilifying the victims. Razon’s statements, according to them, serve to obfuscate the issue rather than to unearth the truth.

The mounting cases of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, government’s apparent lack of political will in investigating and prosecuting the cases, and the witnesses and evidences pointing to the culpability of state security forces lend credence to assertions that these are part of state policy particularly of its counter-insurgency program, “Oplan Bantay Laya.”

Oplan Bantay Laya

Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) is the Arroyo government’s counterinsurgency program implemented in 2002 replacing Oplan Balangai. Documents about Oplan Bantay Laya obtained by Bulatlat show an alarming connection between the government’s counterinsurgency program, the patterns in cases of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, and the actions of troops on the ground as told by survivors and witnesses. 

OBL identified 13 priority areas in seven regions, including Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Central Visayas, Bicol, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and Ilocos Cordillera, as the focus of intensive military operations. These are also the regions with the highest number of cases of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances.

Second, OBL documents claim that the protracted people’s war of the CPP-NPA is carried out by “sectoral front organizations.” These “sectoral front organizations” are to be the subject of target research.  The output of target research would be a “sectoral/front Order of Battle.”

It categorizes two types of organizations as targets: the “local communist-infiltrated organization and the sectoral front organizations.” Local communist-infiltrated organizations, among others, actively participate in activities or organizations established by the CPP-NPA-NDFP.

Sectoral front organizations, according to the AFP, join multisectoral mobilizations which carry issues outside of their traditional issues. They also conduct ”radical and violent mobilizations.”

Target individuals in these organizations, under the OBL, are the president, chairperson, secretary, secretary-general who participate in symposia, lectures, teach-ins and other activities designed to mobilize the audience against the government.

In February 2004, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) issued a memo directing all its units to submit a report regarding the results and developments in the “neutralization” of their targets. In military parlance, “neutralization” means killing its targets. 

While OBL documents did not identify the organizations it categorizes as “local communist-infiltrated” and “sectoral front organizations,” the AFP came out with a power point presentation titled “Knowing the Enemy” in the last quarter of 2005.  In “Knowing the Enemy,” legal organizations such as the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement); Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines); COURAGE, a federation of unions of government employees, PISTON, a federation of transport drivers and operators; KADAMAY, a federation of urban poor associations; as well as organizations of youth and students, teachers, women, health workers, lawyers, journalists, scientists and techonologists, church people as “sectoral front organizations.”

The list even included the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the Philippine Independent Church (PIC), the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

The lists are also consistent with statements by the AFP and PNP, especially Palparan, Razon, and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, and that of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales accusing the groups as communist “front organizations” and are therefore targets for “neutralization.” 

Being categorized as a “sectoral front organization” and target individuals, and being listed in the “sectoral/front organization Order of Battle” practically constitutes a death sentence. This appears to be consistent with reports about AFP troops involved in harassing, threatening and killing members and leaders of these organizations.   


Bulatlat has documented at least 10 habeas corpus cases filed involving the disappearances of 18 individuals, 13 of them civilians while five are consultants of the NDFP in the peace negotiations with the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

While seven cases (Narciso Parani-Jovito Velasco, Cadapan-Empeño-Merino, Prudencio Calubid, Rogelio Calubad, Leopoldo Ancheta, Philip Limjoco and Roland Porter) are still ongoing, three cases (Abalos, Tessie and Rodel Abellera and Philip Dela Cruz) have been dismissed by the Solicitor General for lack of merit on Aug 29, 2006.

The Abelleras were abducted by hooded armed-men who family members and witnesses alleged as soldiers belonging to the Delta Company of the 71st IB in their homes in Barangay Parista, Lupao, Nueva Ecija on July 13, 2006. Family members and witnesses said Dela Cruz was abducted by the same elements on July 20.

Calubid and Limjoco are numbers 21 and 23, respectively, in the Department of Justice’s list of 51 individuals charged with rebellion.

In all the seven ongoing cases, the military has denied the writ and have avoided court appearances.  For once, however, Palparan, Samson and Boac were forced to appear in court lest they would be cited for contempt.

The Parani-Velasco case had been submitted for decision in February but nothing has been issued so far.

In December 2003, the justice department found no probable cause against Msgt. Donald Caigas who was charged with murder and kidnapping of human rights worker Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy and the arbitrary detention of four other survivors in Oriental Mindoro. An appeal filed by lawyers for the victim’s families to the justice secretary in February 2004 was also denied  belatedly on Nov. 27, 2006 despite court records showing positive identification of Caigas by the four survivors who turned witnesses.

Caigas remains at large, reports say.

Seeking justice

If the extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances are indeed part of state policy and the government’s counterinsurgency program, it is then impossible for victims and their relatives to obtain justice under the current dispensation. This also explains the comment of a police investigator assigned to probe into the killing of Bp Alberto Ramento of the PIC that they are being made to “clean up the mess of the military.”

What then is there left for the victims and their relatives to do to obtain justice?

They, along with people’s organizations and human rights groups have turned to the international community to generate pressure on the Arroyo government to stop the killings and forced disappearances. In October 2006, they filed a complaint before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Council was expected to ask the Arroyo government to reply. 

Early November, a similar case was also filed before the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) in The Hague, Netherlands, which is also the seat of the International Crime Tribunal (ICC) and the International Court of Justice.  The PPT is an “international opinion tribunal, independent from any State authority, which publicly and analytically examines cases regarding violations of human rights and rights of peoples.”

Organized in 1979, the PPT is not lacking in integrity having Nobel Peace Prize laureates and internationally-recognized personalities as members of its Jury. Although it cannot compel the Arroyo government to implement its judgment, it can further generate international pressure to put a stop to the political killings and forced disappearances. To date, the PPT has held 30 sessions, including the first session on the Philippines in 1980 that found the Marcos dictatorship guilty of human rights violations.

The victims of Martial Law also filed and won a class action suit against the Marcos family before the Federal District Court of Hawaii. But the victims have yet to receive the indemnification due them because of the efforts of the Arroyo government to claim all Marcos accounts discovered abroad and its failure so far to pass a bill in Congress providing compensation to the victims.

Victims of the Arroyo government may also file a class action or criminal suit in the future when the Arroyo government is no longer in power.

Meantime, however, people’s organizations, human rights groups, the victims and their families may have to generate strong public condemnation locally with the same intensity that made the Arroyo government backtrack on its attempts to revise the Constitution.  It could also let more international pressure bear down on the Arroyo government affecting it where it hurts most, foreign aid and investments, and remittances of foreign exchange. Bulatlat       

International Reactions Fail to Stop Killings and Disappearances
(First of three parts)

Probing the Military’s Hand
(Second of three parts)


© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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