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

US has on several occasions directly supported the Philippine military's pursuit of the armed communist militia, which has been fighting the central government for more than 40 years, because of its alleged new united front with certain guerrilla Muslim organizations.

In 2002 Arroyo announced an all-out war against what she deemed internal security threats including armed leftist groups, a master military plan known locally as Oplan Bantay Laya, or

Operation Plan Defend Freedom. That assault was scheduled to conclude last year, but it was recently extended by her government through 2010, when Arroyo's constitutionally mandated term as president ends. Last year was notably the bloodiest yet for extrajudicial killings, with a total of 185 people, mostly left-leaning activists, murdered without trial or punishment for the perpetrators.

It was also during this period that Arroyo made the controversial Presidential Proclamation 1017, granting exceptional unchecked powers to the executive branch. Last February she activated that order to place the country under a state of emergency and allowed law-enforcement officials to conduct warrantless arrests of alleged enemies of the state, including some members of the political opposition and journalists from critical media outlets. It's notable now that Arroyo's crackdown on civil liberties conspicuously coincided with a spike in political killings.

State of denial
Even with the international spotlight on Arroyo's rights record, Philippine military and police officials continue to play down the mounting death toll, claiming that there have been no more than 100 political-related killings over her government's six-year term. As in the past, the government blames the NPA for most of the killings, claiming the rebel group is purging its own members or those who have abandoned their ideological cause. But the pattern of the killings seems to indicate that left-leaning activists are often being targeted by security forces the same as armed NPA rebels.

Rights organizations and reportedly the Melo Commission have openly blamed particular prominent members of the military - specifically now-retired General Jovencito Palparan - for the killings of social and political activists sympathetic to the communist movement. According to Karapatan's records, more than 100 of the extrajudicial killings took place in Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas and Central Luzon regions, where Palparan had been assigned as a battalion commander.

Palparan told the Associated Press that "there was no evidence against him or any of his men" after the Melo Commission submitted its report to Arroyo. But Palparan's case could soon put Arroyo's government in a tricky spot. The recently retired Palparan was praised by name during Arroyo's State of the Nation address last June for his efforts in helping to reduce the strength of the communist insurgency. During the same nationally televised address, she also lamented the upsurge in unexplained extrajudicial killings.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon has said Palparan can no longer be held accountable for any charges related to the killings because his military service has ended. Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos, a member of the Melo Commission, said that the fact his fact-finding team's authority and findings had no legal binding was apparent in the alleged "arrogant" way Palparan answered question's from the commission's members.

In the coming months, the UN and potentially the EU will likely add a new, more legalistic and potentially damning perspective to the intensifying domestic debate about whether the killings are a matter of central government policy or the dirty work of a few wayward security officials. Whether international probity will be enough to stem the bloodletting and bring high-level Philippine officials to account still seems doubtful as the killings continue this year. What does seem certain is that the Philippines' international reputation as a respectable and stable democracy will soon take another hit.

Cher S Jimenez is a Manila-based journalist with the BusinessMirror newspaper. She recently received a grant from the Ateneo de Manila University to conduct investigative journalism on illegal workers in the United Arab Emirates.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republis hing.)

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