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    Southeast Asia
     Feb 13, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Deadly dirty work in the Philippines
By Cher S Jimenez

MANILA - Political killings in the Philippines have escalated into a full-blown international issue, one that threatens to further undermine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's already wobbly democratic credentials and one that puts at long-term risk the Philippines' budding and lucrative military relationship with the United States.

Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, and three UN staff members arrived in Manila over the weekend to begin a three-week independent probe that will

include meetings with high-level government officials as well as independent rights groups, some of which have had their members assassinated. Arroyo has also recently invited the European Union and certain individual European countries to assist with probes into the killings.

Significantly, the UN fact-finding mission comes hot on the heels of a revealing government-ordered investigation into the surge in political assassinations. Led by former Philippine Supreme Court justice Jose Melo, a commission on January 30 revealed in initial comments to the local media that members of the military were responsible for the "majority" of the killings, and although they acted of their own volition and not on direct government orders, that their superiors could be held accountable for their subordinates' crimes.

The military has already promised to prosecute any soldiers found to be guilty of extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, Arroyo told foreign diplomats the day after the Melo Commission was released that both soldiers and armed leftist groups were responsible for the killings and that she believed "99.9% of our military are good, hard-working and patriotic Filipinos". The contents of the Melo Commission's report have not yet been revealed publicly.

Arroyo administration officials have consistently denied any responsibility for the killings, claiming reports that allege that the government ordered any of the deaths are being perpetuated by political opponents trying to destabilize the government and score political points before upcoming Senate elections. And judging by recent official statements, Arroyo believes that the UN's findings will somehow absolve her and her administration of any culpability for the killings.

Arroyo could, however, be in for a rude awakening. UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples Rodolfo Stavenhagen said over the weekend that her government's inability to stop the extrajudicial killings and the pattern of human-rights violations victimizing human-rights defenders, social activists, community leaders and other innocent civilians "is seriously undermining the international standing of the Philippine government".

Echoes of Marcos
That echoes what rights groups such as Karapatan have been alleging for years. Since Arroyo took power in 2001, at least 830 people have been killed in an extrajudicial fashion, including 365 mostly left-leaning political and social activists, Karapatan claims. The larger figure includes assassinations of journalists, judges and lawyers known to be sympathetic to leftist causes. Civil-society and rights groups have frequently criticized Arroyo's perceived public indifference to the murders, raising questions of whether she is either unable or unwilling to stop the violence.

To be sure, there are questions about how much control Arroyo really has over certain military commanders and their lower-ranking officers. Her administration has occasionally been beset by military mutinies and alleged foiled coup attempts. However, the recent escalation in violence has placed her six-year administration on pace to surpass the total number of extrajudicial killings documented during the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' brutal tenure. During his 20-year rule, including a decade under martial law, more than 3,000 people associated with the communist movement were killed. That's a particularly damning comparison for Arroyo, a US-educated economist and self-professed democrat.

It could also significantly act to complicate her government's relations with the United States, which is barred by the Leahy Amendment from providing military or police assistance to governments found to be involved in systematic rights abuses. Arroyo has firmly allied herself with the US-led "war on terror", and the Philippines has allowed US special forces and other military personnel to take up positions in the south to provide technical, logistical and, apparently in certain instances, operational support to the Philippine military in combating Muslim separatist insurgent groups, one of which Washington claims has ties to al-Qaeda.

Significantly, the US, no doubt at Arroyo's urging, also included the heavily armed and well-entrenched New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, on its list of international terrorist groups. According to Karapatan, the 

Continued 1 2 

Philippines: Success on the forgotten front (Feb 3, '07)

Philippines: Power, not Gloria (Feb 3, '06)

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