November 18, 2005

A policy of extrajudicial killings

The pattern of summary executions, official cover-up, impunity for perpetrators of gross and systematic human rights violations and even reward for top military and police officials responsible for such travesty leads to the inescapable conclusion that extrajudicial killings has become national policy under the administration of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

DILG Secretary Angelo Reyes insults our intelligence when he smugly stands by his men, police operatives of the Traffic Management Group (TNG) Task Force Limbas, accused of executing three suspect carnappers as they lay wounded and dying, after a purported shoot-out with the police last November 7.

Mr. Reyes immediately lauded the TMG team that had conducted the “successful” operation when video footages of the crime scene surfaced raising serious doubts about the police report of a shoot-out and instead pointing to a likely rub-out of the alleged car thieves.

Ten officers were relieved from their posts pending inquiry into whether they followed the rules of engagement during the clash. A day after, PNP Chief Arturo Lomibao reinstated them, saying that he did not want to demoralize the police force by appearing to punish those who were merely doing their jobs.

Subsequently, a TMG investigating team cleared their own men citing police crime lab reports that at least two of the suspects were positive for powder burns and that a slug recovered from one of the injured officers during the shootout came from one of the slain suspects' gun.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales also publicly exonerated the involved policemen stating that since the three suspects were already dead anyway when they were shot at close range by the policemen, the latter had done nothing wrong. (Is there a law against making sure that a criminal suspect is deader than dead and can’t shoot back?).

Contrary to Mr. Gonzales’ baseless speculation that the three men were already lifeless when more bullets were pumped into them, forensic expert Dr. Rachel Fortun and other medical experts opine that at least two could have survived their initial wounds had they been given emergency medical attention after the alleged clash.

Too bad for the 10 cops and their defenders, more video footages show the policemen apparently planting a gun and other incriminating evidence in the scene of the crime.

The cover-up of the extrajudicial execution of the three suspects now clearly goes all the way up to a least two cabinet officials and the chief of the PNP, yet Malacañang continues to defend the accused policemen stressing that they are entitled to be presumed innocent and may have been acting based on “self-preservation”.

Mrs. Arroyo herself is tightlipped about the latest black mark on the PNP. She has not even barked her usual orders to the PNP to carry out a “thorough investigation” and “bring the perpetrators to justice”.

A year has passed since the Hacienda Luisita Massacre and apparently the government considers the matter closed. But what has it got to show in terms of investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding the bloody carnage that involved hundreds of police and military men and private guards of the Cojuangco-owned hacienda?

A 422-page compilation of affidavits, reference materials and other documentary evidence dated January 2005 which the PNP described as the “Final Report of the PNP Investigation Committee on the November 16, 2004 incident at Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac” concluded that the PNP was blameless.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) undertook the task of poring over the PNP report to find out the police version of what happened at the Hacienda Luisita (HL) massacre and who were responsible.

It found the report replete with outright lies and other spurious claims. One is the claim that police forces had exercised “maximum tolerance” and had attempted to negotiate with strikers before they commenced on the use of water cannon, teargas, an armored personnel carrier and gunfire with state forces charging into the strikers’ fleeing ranks with truncheons flailing.

According to Bayan, “Contrary to these claims and exceeding the bounds of their authority, the PNP had in fact already decided on the legality of the strike in Hacienda Luisita long before the DOLE issued the return-to-work order on the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) on 10 November 2004. The PNP … did this by launching unprovoked and unjustified dispersal operations on the first and second days of the strike, that is, on Nov. 6 and 7, 2004.”

The PNP report also claims that the initial gunfire had come from the ranks of the strikers despite the fact that not a single policeman or soldier sustained any gunshot wounds.

According to Bayan, “The victims’ accounts, their medical certificates, autopsy reports of the dead strikers and other documents show that many of them sustained frontal wounds. They were shot in the chest, arms, and other parts of the body while facing Gate 1 (where the police and military forces were positioned) during the first volley of gunfire.”

The alliance added, “Gunfire also came from the back of the strikers when they turned their back to Gate 1 and scampered away. Several witnesses pointed to snipers --armed plainclothesmen -- pre-positioned …sugar mill compound even before the violent dispersal operation started.”

The report predictably utilized the communist bogey when it insisted that the PNP had gathered evidence that “confirms the presence and participation (of the NPA) in the strike…” without stating what that evidence was and even admitting that such “evidence gathered against alleged members of the NPA will not suffice for their criminal prosecution.”

Moreover, the report reveals the deliberate incompetence of police investigators in the way they allowed unauthorized and unidentified persons to enter the crime scene and tamper with material evidence such as spent bullet shells. Thereafter, such tampered evidence were accepted as basis for their deliberately sloppy investigation.

The PNP report is completely silent about the police barricade and military takeover of San Martin de Porres Hospital before, during and after the dispersal. Bayan investigation turned up this fact and raises questions about whether the PNP and AFP planned the violent dispersal and subsequent mopping up operations way ahead of any so-called provocation by the strikers.
Bayan concludes, “The PNP report is a documented attempt by government authorities to cover up what really happened, exculpate government responsibility as well as support and strengthen the unfounded claims by the Cojuangcos that the strike is illegal and that the concerted actions by the CATLU and ULWU members were instigated and infiltrated by the NPA.”

Yet the PNP remains inutile in addressing the series of crimes perpetrated against the striking workers of and their supporters even after the massacre. We reiterate that no substantial investigation has been made on the assassinations of peasant leader Marcelino Beltran, Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, religious leader Fr. William Tadena and most recently, Ric Ramos, CATLU president. In the latter’s case, several witnesses have implicated military men, members of a Special Operations Team assigned to HL, under the command of Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan but no arrests of suspects have been made.

And the killings continue.

Political killings by government-directed death squads of leaders of progressive party lists and people’s organizations, activists and ordinary folk who government claims are NPA-in-disguise or in-the-making.

Gangland-type killings of supposed armed and dangerous members of criminal syndicates by “overzealous” police task forces.

The extermination of leaders and members of “terrorist” bands long pronounced by government authorities as neutralized and moribund, during military and police operations in Moro communities. And so on.

Meanwhile Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, her cabal of militarists and fascists, her retinue of bootlickers and apologists, all vigorously invoke the “rule of law” as they arrogantly kill as well -- the truth, accountability of leadership, and any shred of moral uprightness and decency in government -- as this illegitimate president desperately clings to power, plunging the nation deeper and deeper in irresolvable crisis.

18-19 Nov. 2005


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