Congress HR committee looks into extra judicial killings in Mindanao

Nov. 06, 2008

DAVAO CITY – The best deterrent to crime is when the wheels of justice, no matter how slow, really move and convict people who are guilty.

This is the statement made by Lorenzo Erin Taada IIII, chair of the House of Representatives’ committee on human rights, after a two-day hearing for the Mindanao regions of the ongoing Congressional inquiry on extrajudicial killings.

Taada said people will be afraid to commit crimes if they can see that the government is really capable of arresting the perpetrators and immediately punishing them.

But he said no perpetrator has been punished yet for the number of human rights violation (HRVs) cases filed against the military, its paramilitary units, and the police.

Taada was in Davao in August for the congressional inquiry on extrajudicial killing, a follow through of the earlier reports made by the Melo Commission and United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on the human rights situation in the country.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, victims of extrajudicial executions have reached 910 in June this year since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power in January 2001. Victims of enforced disappearances have also reached 193 in June.

I don’t know what other laws you can pass to protect them (the victims). There are already laws, Taada said. It’s a matter of enforcement.

Among the cases presented was that of Grecil Buya, the nine-year old girl killed by the elements of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion in an encounter with the Communist guerrillas in barangay Kahayag, New Bataan in Compostela Valley province on March 31, 2007.

A witness takes oath to tell the truth during the public hearing conducted by the House Committee on Human Rights in August. Victims and witnesses from the Mindanao regions presented their accounts on the human rights abuses allegedly committed by the government troops. Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, chairperson; and Rep. Satur Ocampo, House Deputy Minority Leader were present at the hearing. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Peasant leader Celso Pojas, secretary-general of the Farmers Association of Davao City of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was also gunned down on May 16 this year in Maa while Roel Dotarot, organizer of Bayan Muna, was killed in Casoon, Compostela on August 15 this year.

Witnesses pointed to the elements of the AFP as perpetrators.

Soldiers also abducted Valentin Lapuz Jr. of barangay Mangagoy in Maragusan town of Compostela Valley on April 2007. He was never seen again.

Representatives from government, including the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) from regions nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao took part in the Congressional hearing, except for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), who was conspicuously absent.

In its February 2006 report, the Melo Commission identified the military behind the killing of activists. It becomes equally plain that some ranking officers in the Army have not performed their function of investigating or preventing the said killings, as well as punishing their perpetrators, part of the Melo Commission report said.

The Commission, headed by former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Melo, was an independent body created by the Arroyo government on August 21, 2006 to look into the killings of media workers and activists.

But although it pinned down the blame for the killings on the military, the Commission cleared the Arroyo government of any responsibility.

In his final report in November 2007, United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston said the AFP was responsible for the killing of leftist activists as part of government’s campaign against Communist guerrillas. Alston also dismissed claims by government officials that the killings were part of the Communist movement’s internal purge.

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