Byline: DAVID CAGAHASTIAN
President Arroyo vowed to eradicate the "culture of violence" in settling political disputes in the country, during the commemoration yesterday of the 23rd death anniversary of "the great victim of political killings," the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.
In her speech during one of the many rites to commemorate Aquino's death, Mrs. Arroyo assured to intensify the legal pursuit of perpetrators of political killings and protect the civil liberties of the people for which the late senator fought and died.
"Karangalan kong makidalo, kasama ninyong lahat sa anibersaryo ng kamatayan ng ating bayaning si Ninoy Aquino sa pamamagitan ng pagdadala ng bulaklak sa kanyang dambana at pagtatanim ng yellow pine tree dito sa Maynila (It's an honor to join you in commemorating the death anniversary of our hero, Ninoy Aquino, through wreath-laying and planting a yellow pine tree here in Manila)," Mrs. Arroyo said.
"Dahil itong araw na ito, naaalala natin na si Ninoy Aquino ay nagbuwis ng buhay para bumalik ang demokrasya. Si Ninoy ang pinakakilalang biktima ng political killings at hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa natin alam kung sino ang mastermind ng pagpaslang sa kanya (Through this day, we remember Ninoy Aquino who gave up his life so that democracy is restored. Ninoy is the most known victim of political killings and until now we do not know who the mastermind of the slaying was)," she added.
To finally eradicate what she called a "culture of violence" in Philippine politics, Mrs. Arroyo has created the "Commission to Conduct an Independent Probe of the Killings of Media Practitioners and Militant Activists," and delegated to the commission "wide powers and a sweeping mandate" to bring to justice the perpetrators of political killings.
Mrs. Arroyo announced last week the creation of the commission, but named only during the weekend former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Melo as its head. Other members of the commission are National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Nestor Mantaring, Chief Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno, Bishop Camilo Gregorio of Batanes, and University of the Philippines Board of Regents member Nelia Teodoro-Gonzalez.
"For too long, there has been a culture of violence in our political process. For years, political disputes have been settled looking down the barrel of a gun," Mrs. Arroyo said.
"Today, in honor of the great victim of political killings, Ninoy Aquino, I am announcing that former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Melo will lead an investigative group imbued with wide power and a sweeping mandate for his members to put murderers behind bars and break this cycle of violence once and for all," she said.
Mrs. Arroyo said that though the police and the Department of Justice have been making progress in the government's campaign to stop political killings, the slow pace of the investigations and prosecutions against those accused of political killings has made her "impatient."
"I have directed Melo to prioritize and focus on investigations of media and activist killings, to be the government's sole voice on the issue, and to make a report to me outlining its actions and policy recommendations, including appropriate prosecution and legislative proposals, if any, aimed at eradicating the root causes of extra-judicial killings and breaking the cycle of violence once and for all," she said.
In the commemorative activity that she led in honor of the late senator Aquino, Mrs. Arroyo offered a wreath of flowers to Aquino's monument near the historic Manila Hotel and at the corner of P. Burgos Avenue and Roxas Boulevard in Manila. The President also planted a yellow pine tree near the monument to honor the late senator.
Mrs. Arroyo signed Republic Act 9256 of 2004 declaring August 21 an official holiday in honor of Aquino's martyrdom. The law calls on the EDSA People Power Commission to prepare activities to commemorate Aquino's death. …