Wider Probe on Killings Ordered; European Union Invited to Help Melo Panel Prosecute Soldiers Involved in Slays, Says President
Byline: GENALYN D. KABILING
President Arroyo created yesterday a new inter-agency body to investigate the alleged involvement of security forces in the rash of extrajudicial killings in the country.
The President ordered a wider probe after she received a report from the commission headed by retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose A. R. Melo. Mrs. Arroyo created the commission last year to investigate the cases of violence against left-wing activists and journalists.
The Melo Commission's report recommended that controversial retired Army Gen. Jovito Palparan and other military commanders be held liable for the extra-judicial killings that occurred in areas under their command.
Melo presented the commission report to the President after a Cabinet meeting in Malacanang. Full details of the report were not made public.
"The Departments of Justice and National Defense shall coordinate with the Commission on Human Rights to constitute a joint fact-finding body to delve deeper into the matter of involvement of military personnel in unexplained killings, file the corresponding charges against, and prosecute the culpable parties," she said in a statement.
The President said she would also ask the Supreme Court to create "special courts" to handle cases involving the killings and ordered prosecutors to enhance the government's witness protection program.
"I deplore the killings be they from Left or Right, against journalists or activists. We have a sorry history in our nation of political violence. I aim to stop it once and for all," she said.
The President also ordered the Melo Commission to continue with its work and submit supplemental reports from time to time.
Meantime, a formal proposal will also be made by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the European Union, Spain, Finland, and Sweden to send investigators to assist the commission, according to the President.
Mrs. Arroyo lamented that no militant organizations participated in the hearings of the Melo commission.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye expressed hopes that the presence of the European investigators may entice the leftist groups, which previously expressed doubts on the credibility of the Melo Commission, to participate in its hearings.
"The Philippines is likely the most democratic country in the region. As I have said, I have no tolerance for human rights violations, particularly the killing of journalists and activists," Mrs. Arroyo said.
The President also asked the defense department and the Armed Forces to submit an "updated document on command responsibility" as soon as possible. …