Sotero Llamas, a former national leader of the Philippine
Communist Party, was among 52 leftists facing charges of rebellion
when he was gunned down Monday, several hundred miles south of the
Who did it remains a mystery, as are most of the killers of some
600 leftists and more than 70 journalists in the five years of
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's tenure. But to many observers,
they are reminiscent of actions during the rule of dictator
Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted in the People Power revolution of
1986. And, they say, the government is not responding forcefully
enough to the rising number of abuses.
"There's a pattern of arbitrary detention and arbitrary
killings," says Eduardo Dinsuy, a director at the quasi-independent
Commission on Human Rights, empowered by law to investigate and
recommend cases for prosecution. "And most of them are committed by
those in uniform."
The concern over human rights violations comes at a time when Ms.
Arroyo, who rose to power in 2001 in a second People Power
revolution, confronts recurrent rumors of anti-government plots and
strong opposition from both the right and left extremes of the
Arroyo imposed emergency law temporarily in February during an
abortive coup attempt. The fear now is that she may be tempted to
impose a measure of martial law in the name of stamping out revolt
and cracking down on lawlessness at a time when corruption, along
with enormous economic inequities, appears as widespread as during
the Marcos era.
"This administration is desperate to perpetuate its power," says
Vergel Santos, chairman of the Center for Media Freedom and
Responsibility, a media watchdog formed after Marcos's fall. Mr.
Santos argues that the government is responsible "for encouraging an
environment where these things can be done."
Those who see a government hand in the repression may have a hard
time proving their case. The government has created a task force
charged with investigating the killings. But the concern is familiar
in a country accustomed to the lure of democracy and the reality of
harsh repression under Marcos. The longtime leader invoked martial
law for a decade, during which time thousands were arrested,
newspapers were closed, and huge business interests were divided
Sister Crescencia Lucera, executive director of Task Force
Detainees, a group founded while Marcos was in power, sees a
reversion to that era. "Most of these cases involve the military and
the police," she says, adding, "we're not sure who is in control."
Officials in the government ascribe the killings to local
commanders or vigilantes. Most slain journalists were commentators
who angered local warlords by attacking corruption and influence-