'It was a Harrowing Process' – UN Special Rapporteur
While families of
victims of extrajudicial executions testified before him during his
recently concluded 10-day visit to the
United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra judicial, arbitrary and summary
executions Prof. Philip Alston said he was almost moved to tears. “It was
a harrowing process,” he admitted.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
rapporteur Philip Alston (left) and the picture he did not want to see
-- that of 21-year-old Isaias Manano (right), one of the 'harrowing'
cases of extrajudicial executions brought before him.
The United Nations
(UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
last week admitted that probing the spate of political murders in the
Philippines is a “harrowing process.”
The UN Special
Rapporteur, Philip Alston, an Australian professor at the New York
University, was in near tears on Feb. 21 when he recounted to the media
his experience in investigating the killings of civilians, political
activists and journalists, most particularly when he heard the stories
straight from the victims’ families. He spent 10 days in the Philippines
interviewing families of victims of political killings and other
violations of human rights as well to President Gloria M. Arroyo and other
“I was incredibly
upset by the execution of a 21-year old son of this woman testifying
before me,” he said, referring to Erlinda Manano whose son, youth activist
Isaias, was murdered reportedly by soldiers on April 28, 2004 in Calapan,
the city capital of the island-province of Mindoro Oriental.
“I was almost in
tears but I tried not to show anything,” the UN expert said. “Then she
said ‘sir, here are the photographs of my son,’ and I simply had to say,
‘take them away please.’”
“I know it was rather
offensive but I couldn’t bear to look at him. I would have collapsed,”
Alston said, his face turning red.
Alston came to the
Philippines following complaints of human rights violations filed recently
by families of the victims in coordination with the human rights alliance
Karapatan and other groups with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The HRC sent Professor Alston and a few other Special Rapporteurs with the
consent of the Macapagal-Arroyo government. Alston’s visit was allowed in
the wake of pressure from the international community on Macapagal-Arroyo
to take steps in stopping the political killings in the country.
The UN investigator
also noted the magnitude of how the killings are perpetrated. He
particularly mentioned a case of a man who was killed while sleeping.
“I met with a woman
whose husband was killed in an alleged encounter with the military. He was
in bed next to her with the children behind them. He had no weapon and he
was shot 47 times,” he said.
Alston went short of
saying the murders of political dissenters in the country were perpetrated
as part of a state policy by the government particularly the Armed Forces
of the Philippines’s (AFP) counterinsurgency program.
The military has
repeatedly denied this accusation, insisting the killings were part of an
“internal purge” of the underground Left.
likened the military’s denial to “alcoholism.” “As in alcoholism, the
first step to recovering is to acknowledge that there’s a problem. Without
that, forget it. There’s nothing that could be done,” he said.
“That’s close to how
I see the military at this stage. They occasionally make public statements
which are yielding but if you look at the systematic legal response to the
Melo Commission, it is in denial. That’s the real position of the
military,” he explained.
But Alston was quick
to say he was not “asking for a witch hunt or anything very dramatic.”
What he wanted was,
he said, a statement from the very top - the president, the defense
secretary, and most of all the Chief of Staff saying extrajudicial
executions will not be tolerated.
Alston said the AFP
should begin to “investigate seriously and methodically not in a way to
simply protect its own officers.”
Some sectors of the
civil society, however, find Alston’s remarks inconsistent when he said he
did not believe that “there is a policy at the top designed which direct
that these killings take place.”
statement does not mention the government’s Oplan Bantay Laya (Operational
Plan Guard Freedom), the Macapagal-Arroyo’s counter insurgency program
which aims to “neutralize” the “communist front organizations,” among
others. But he did mention in his recommendation that the government’s
counterinsurgency program should be reviewed.
The Alston report
also failed to note that President Macapagal-Arroyo has, in fact, given
the military an additional Php1 billion budget to end the communist
insurgency in two years.
patylist groups, particularly Bayan Muna (people first), Anakpawis
(toiling masses) and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), are targets of
political repression was confirmed by the Alston findings.
Alston noted that
although the Philippine government created an opening for leftist groups
to enter the democratic political system by repealing the Anti-Subversion
Act and enacting a partylist system law, it has “worked resolutely to
circumvent the spirit of these legislative decision by trying to impede
the work of the party-list groups and to put in question their right to
operate freely,” Alston said.
“The idea is not to
destroy the NPA but to eliminate organizations that support many of its
goals and do not actively disown its means,” the UN Special Rapporteur
concluded. He said there are cases in which the government has “spilled
over into decisions to extra-judicially execute those who cannot be
reached by the legal process.”
In his testimony to
Alston on Feb. 20 at the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy
Casiño said that of the more than 360 activists killed, 169 are from
party-lists: Bayan Muna, 127; Anakpawis, 40; and GWP, two.
Casiño said 77 House
resolutions and 22 privilege speeches on human rights were filed during
the 12th and 13th Congress. Only 10 committee
hearings were held to hear such cases, Casiño said, but in almost all
these hearings military officials refused to appear while government
officials have constantly invoked Executive Order No. 464 which requires
government officials to seek presidential approval before appearing in
The Bayan Muna
representative said only two committee reports were approved by the
Committee on Civil, Political, and Human Rights of the House. He said they
used as basis the committee’s
report to oppose the promotion of Jovito Palparan to major general before
the Commission on Appointments but their protests went unheeded.
military top brass and Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzales assailed the
Alston report with the latter saying that the UN independent expert has
been “brainwashed” by the Left.
The military has been
trying to assert that the killings are part of a purge within the
communist movement. “This theory was relentlessly pushed by the AFP and
many of my government interlocutors,” Alston said in his statement. “But
the evidence offered by the military in support of this theory is
especially unconvincing,” he said adding that the figures presented by the
military were related to the purges of the late 1980s.
The military also
presented an alleged document from the Communist Party of the
Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) captured in May 2006 describing a
supposed Operation Bushfire. “In the absence of much stronger supporting
evidence this particular document bears all the hallmarks of a fabrication
and cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation,”
departure from the country on Feb. 21, the military had relentlessly tried
to discredit the figures of the human rights watchdog Karapatan (Alliance
for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) by presenting to the media two men
who were listed as “killed” in the Karapatan tally but who have been
proven to be alive and in the custody of the military.
The two men are
Renato Bugtong and Edwin Mascariñas.
In an interview with
Bulatlat, Karapatan secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez said it
was human error that Bugtong was listed as “killed” but should have been
listed as “illegally arrested” and “tortured.”
Chapter Fact Sheet No. 011-02 states Bugtong, a farmer, was illegally
arrested by 2nd Lt. Jaime M. Velasco II and T/Sgt. Celso
Voluntad of the 7401st Combat Squadron, 740th Combat
Group, based in Brgy. Dulhatab, Balayan, Batangas on June 27, 2002 in his
home in Sitio Salipit, Barangay (village) Talisay, Calatagan, same
Bugtong, the fact
sheet revealed, showed signs of torture. He bore cigarette burns on
different parts of his body and contusions on his knees and also on other
parts of his body. He was charged with violation of Republic Act 1700
(illegal possession of firearms) for owning the firearms allegedly found
in the house of neighbors Val and Myra Soriano.
reportedly released on bail and is now reporting to the military.
coordinator of the partylist group Anakpawis (toiling masses), on the
other hand, was reported to have been abducted by soldiers on April 13,
2004, in his home in Barangay Masahuisi, Bongabong town also in Mondoro
Oriental, according to an incident report of the Karapatan-Southern
Human rights workers
of Karapatan went into a fact finding mission on April 15 the same year
but were prevented from proceeding to the place of incident, the report
Karapatan-Southern Tagalog secretary general who was part of the mission,
said they were held inside the Iglesia Filipina Independiete (IFI) church
in Barangay Bagong Bayan in the town of Roxas also in Mindoro Oriental for
more than 24 hours.
Isaias Manano, who
was then the provincial coordinator of Anakpawis, was part of the fact
finding team and was among those who negotiated for their safe release. He
was shot dead two weeks after, on April 28.
Cuario said their
team was not able to proceed with the investigation on the Mascariñas case
as military operations intensified in the place of incident. But neighbors
of Mascariñas told their team that there was a wake for Mascariñas while
the human rights workers were being held at the IFI church, Cuario added.
Karapatan has yet to
verify if the Edwin Mascariñas being presented by the military to media is
the same person as the one abducted and allegedly killed in Roxas town,
response to the Alston report, AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon said,
in a press conference, that it is Alston who is in denial. Justice
Secretary Raul Gonzalez, on the other hand, downplayed the significance of
Alston’s report calling him, as newspapers reported, “sonofagun” and “just
a muchacho.” Bulatlat
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