Congressmen are divided over President Arroyo's decision to create an independent commission to probe the killings of members of various leftist organizations and members of the media.
Administration congressmen lauded the President's move and proposed that the commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo be given until December to finish its task.
On the other hand, lawmakers representing party-list organizations found the probe body "unacceptable" for having members who are both subordinates of President Arroyo.
A group of congressmen led by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo has linked the Arroyo government to the 700 or so murders.
The congressmen said that for several years, the President failed to lift a finger in pursuing the perpetrators.
Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin and Rep. Marcelino Libanan (Lakas, Eastern Samar) said the Melo panel should submit its report on the killings by the end of the year so the country can put the issue behind it.
Salapuddin and Libanan expressed hope that the commission can do its job fast enough to give the victims the justice they deserve and absolution for those wrongfully accused.
Salapuddin said they have no doubt on the capacity and integrity of Melo to give the issue the proper conclusion.
"Being appointed by GMA doesn't mean ex-justice Melo will be biased for the government. His unblemished record speaks for itself. He is trustworthy and credible enough to lead the commission," said Salapuddin.
In a statement, the group of Ocampo said such a commission should be truly independent and granted appropriate powers to investigate and hold accountable even high government officials, including the President and Commander-in-Chief.
The group criticized the inclusion of the National Bureau of Investigation director and the chief state prosecutor of the Department of Justice as members of the commission.
"The NBI and DOJ are government agencies tasked to investigate and prosecute many of the victims and their organizations branded as enemies of the state. Their immediate superior, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, is a member of the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS) that is rabidly persecuting the legal left. Thus, we cannot expect any independence from the body," the group said.
The group also noted that by declaring that the commission will be "the only voice of government" on the issue, to which all other agencies would have to "clear their statements," the President has already revealed what may be her true agenda which is to make it a mouthpiece of her administration.
The group proposed that member of the commission should have a good track record in the defense of civil liberties and human rights.
"The President should mete preventive suspension to Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and other military and police commanders in whose areas the massive killings and enforced disappearances are happening. This is important to encourage victims and witnesses to come out into the open," the group said.
Commission will hasten resolution of cases - PNP
By ARIS R. ILAGAN
The Philippine National Police yesterday welcomed President Arroyo's creation of an independent commission that will investigate and prosecute cases of journalists and militants slain during the past years, saying that the move will hasten the resolution of the killings.
PNP chief Director General Oscar C. Calderon said that with broader powers and authority, the newly-organized body will be able to conduct a more thorough investigation of these murder cases.
"We hope that the commission will be able to generate the indispensable cooperation and support of all concerned sectors, particularly the party-list group Bayan Muna and its affiliates, similar to what we have established with some media organizations and cause-oriented groups," Calderon said.
Earlier, PNP Task Force Usig complained of non-cooperation of witnesses and leaders of militant groups summoned to appear before a police investigation.
"For our part in the PNP, we will extend our full support and cooperation to allow the Commission to fulfill its mandate of consolidating interagency efforts to serve the ends of justice to the victims," Calderon said.
Calderon directed the PNP Task Force USIG under Deputy Director General Avelino I. Razon Jr. to make available all investigative, technical, forensic and legal support to the Commission.
"Aside from Task Force USIG, I have also directed all concerned Directorial Staff offices and National Support Units to provide the necessary assistance and support to the commission," Calderon said.
Meanwhile, the United Opposition (UNO) yesterday criticized the formation of an independent body that will solve the extra-judicial killings in the country.
UNO president Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said President Arroyo's mandate which she announced during the 23rd death anniversary rite of former Senator Ninoy Aquino, Jr. has instead defiled the honorary rites that was supposed to commemorate the latter's heroism.
"The timing is highly suspect. It's evident that Malacanang was stirred following the Amnesty International report when it noted the steep rise of political killings during her term," Binay said in a phone interview.
He said President Arroyo should have formed the committee a year ago to prevent political killings involving militants, students and journalists from getting worse.
"Why only now? Because the timing is perfect? She desecrated rather than honored the ceremonies," the opposition mayor said.
He noted similarities between Aquino, who was killed during the martial law regime and the hundreds of those who were added to the list of political killings since Arroyo officially started her term in 2004.
"It merely confirmed observation that we are under a de facto martial rule," Binay said.
Binay also said any reconciliation efforts Malacanang would offer to the opposition will only be rejected unless the truth of who really won in the last May 2004 elections is resolved. (with a report by Hannah Torregoza)
Panel asked to probe military involvement in killings of activists
By LESLIE ANN G. AQUINO
The Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR) yesterday expressed concern that the newly created body tasked by President Arroyo to investigate the killings of journalists and leftists activists in the country might just be another sham investigating body.
"We challenge the newly created probe body headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo not to be another sham investigating body that will rely on the same 'reliable informers' that will point to anyone except the military forces and their agents who are widely believed by the victims' families to be the ones behind the wave of killings and abduction," PCPR said in a statement.
The Church group urged Melo to specifically look into the cases of Pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa, Pastor Andy Pawikan and other incidents where there are said to be strong evidence of military involvement.
"It should not be another mouthpiece of the military just like the Malacanang-created Task Force Usig which is set on all-out efforts to establish that CPP-NPA elements are behind the killings of activists rather than ensure justice for the victims and the victims' families," they said.
"We insist that TF Force Usig must be immediately dismantled as it can only come up with obvious cover up and outrageous lies that discredit the victims and exonerate the real perpetrators in the ranks of the military. The families and friends of the victims will not wish to hear any more cover-up and distortions from the government," PCPR stressed.
The group reiterated its earlier call for the President to allow the entry of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and ArbitraryExecutions and other Special Rapporteurs to conduct their own investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
Gonzalez: Foreign observers to monitor efforts to stop killings
By DAVID CAGAHASTIAN
The Philippines will seek the help of foreign governments in monitoring whether the government's intensified campaign against political killings is achieving its goals, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez said yesterday.
Gonzalez said among President Arroyo's agenda in her visit to Europe in September is to make representations with the European Union to send observers that will monitor the campaign against political killings in the country.
Gonzalez issued the announcement at the Kapihan ng Bayan news forum held regularly at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City by the Government Mass Media Group (GMMG) and its chief, Secretary Cerge Remonde.
The proposal to involve foreign governments in the monitoring and evaluation of the government's intensified campaign to stop political killings was earlier rejected by Malacanang, but Gonzales said the government is now looking at European countries to help in assessing whether the government is succeeding in its drive to stop the killings.
Gonzalez said the Philippines will seek the help of foreign governments in Europe in the monitoring since it considers those governments as having "the highest credibility" on the issue of the protection of human rights and civil liberties.
Amid criticisms from international human rights groups that a "culture of impunity" is prevalent in the country, Malacanang had challenged foreign organizations and governments to come to the country and assess the observance of democracy in the Philippines.
Gonzalez also said that the government's campaign against political killings will include a crackdown on private armies of politicians.
He said the government will exercise its political will in disbanding private armies and in pursuing cases against those suspected of being involved in the killings.
Victims must be represented in panel - CODAL
By ELLALYN B. DE VERA
The Counsel for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) yesterday said President Arroyo's creation of a probe body to investigate political killings without any consultation from the victims and the human rights sector is unacceptable.
Lawyer Neri Colmenares of Codal said an independent commission to investigate the spate of killings should be genuinely independent, effective and credible.
Colmenares said that another body to investigate the killings without independence, credibility, and effectiveness could go through the same fate as Task Force Usig, which was earlier formed by the government to investigate the killings.
He said that for any investigating body to be truly independent, it must have fiscal and administrative autonomy from any government institution, especially from the executive.
Colmenares cited that under Section 37, Chapter 9, Book I of the Administrative Code of 1987, the commission formed should have the power to issue summons and subpoena duces tecum and the power to cite in contempt people who refuse to cooperate with the commission.
The President must also assure that members of the Armed Forces, the PNP and other officials will appear before the cmmission, and that "any duly notified executive official who fails to appear will be summarily punished by the President herself with suspension from whatever position or rank until that official appears before the commission," he said.
"The commission's secretariat including a legal team of human rights lawyers must also be independent from the executive," he added.
Colmenares said the investigating body, for purposes of credibility, must be acceptable to the victims of human rights violation and must have at least one representative each from the victims and the human rights sector.
In addition, he recommended that the Commission on Human Rights must also have one representative sitting in the commission.…