September 02, 2006

Melo Commission: no surprises

Malacañang's creation of a supposedly "independent commission to address media and activist killings" -- headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo -- has been met with much skepticism, if not incredulity, by the very victims themselves, i.e. the families of those summarily executed, as well as their advocates in the local and international human rights community, the churches, the academe, the mass media and even Congress itself. The Melo Commission, in marked contrast to the Palace hype, is widely perceived to be neither powerful, credible nor independent.

We must be clear on what the victims and the public expect from a truly independent commission. It is nothing less than to determine whether government personnel under the Arroyo administration, such as the AFP and PNP, have any role as either perpetrators, conspirators, accomplices or accessories to the most serious human rights violations of killings, abduction, torture and massacre reported by human rights groups and the victims or their organizations.

Moreover the public demands that such a commission flush out the perpetrators of these extrajudicial killings, lay the ground for their successful prosecution and punishment and thereby dispel the climate of impunity that has so far enveloped these cases.

It is not, as AO 157 states, that the Melo Commission "be the Government's sole voice on the issue of media and activist killings" as if the Arroyo administration merely wants to orchestrate its official line on the matter.

Neither is it to "make a report to the President outlining its action and policy recommendations including appropriate prosecution and legislative proposals, if any, aimed at eradicating the root causes of extrajudicial killings and breaking such cycle of violence once and for all."

Such a description of the Melo Commission's function presupposes that there is no basis whatsoever to the charge that the political killings are systematic, officially condoned if not directed, and subsequently officially covered up by means of public pronouncements by high-ranking civilian and military officials discounting any military or police involvement without any serious investigation.

Is the Melo Commission starting from the premise that the killings cannot be part of state policy in the light of the Arroyo regime's belligerent declaration of "all-out war" against the Left? Ergo that culpability is limited to, at most, certain abusive military and police personnel and that it cannot go all the way up to the AFP and PNP top brass, the members of the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security and even up to the President and Commander-in-Chief herself?

It will then have to close its eyes to direct and circumstantial evidence indicating a pattern to the killings: The victim's activist or leftist profile and a favored modus operandi of using motorcycle-riding assassins after a period of surveillance and even outright harassment by men believed to be members or assets of the AFP and/or PNP. It will have to disregard evidence prior to and after the murders pointing to state forces as having the motive, the means and the opportunity to carry out these dastardly crimes. To top it all, it must refuse to take notice of the authorities' zero track record in terms of credible investigation, successful prosecution and punishment of the guilty parties.

If the Melo Commission cannot investigate these glaring facts and circumstances, how can it get to the bottom of the killings? Perhaps, its fundamental flaw as a so-called independent commission is precisely its being a creation of Malacañang, its members hand-picked by Mrs. Arroyo herself without benefit of any consultation at all with aggrieved parties.

How can the Melo Commission, like the proverbial water, rise above its source?

But what of the sweeping powers given by Malacañang to the Melo Commission? Essentially, these are nothing more than the limited powers that the toothless Human Rights Commission (CHR) does not already have. Concretely, while the Melo Commission may have the power to subpoena, it has none to punish those who choose to ignore its summons.

If today the Senate, with its much broader powers under the constitution, cannot compel even middle level officials of the executive department to testify, how much more the puny Melo Commission? Mr. Melo admits as much and is left to citing the persuasive powers of Malacañang to get cooperation from the necessary government agencies and officials. Just how far that will get the Commission in its mission to flush out killers and their sponsors, including possible generals and national security advisers, is anybody's guess.

At the end of the day, on what agencies will the Melo Commission rely to gather evidence and to give protection to witnesses -- the very same ones that have proven themselves incapable and unwilling to investigate and stop the killers and even engaging in the foulest of cover-ups. Need we point out that the creation of the Melo Commission is a tacit admission that Task Force Usig is an abject failure, if not a sham.

What of the Melo Commissions vaunted independence? It must be said that the current composition leaves much to be desired. Toothless be the CHR, it has at least displayed a modicum of independence having been the first government body to condemn the killings and call the executive department to account. What is there in the track record of GMA's hand-picked members of the Commission to assure the victims of their independence?

The presence of DOJ Chief State Prosecutor Zuno and NBI Director Mantaring virtually undermines not just the perception of independence but the commission's real autonomy as an investigating body.

A little known fact is that the DOJ is one of the lead agencies in the Inter Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) created by Malacañang in January this year. IALAG is tasked with carrying out the government's intensified legal offensives against communist rebels which is the other face of the two-pronged "total war" effort of the GMA regime. Justice Secretary Gonzales had been crowing that its first achievement is the filing of rebellion charges against the Batasan Six and scores of other legal and underground Left personalities.

As such, the DOJ and NBI members of the Melo Commission are being given the impossible task of investigating killings clearly associated if not resulting from governments counter-insurgency campaign against the CPP and NPA. It is unimaginable that the two subalterns of Justice Secretary Gonzales will be able to maintain such a split personality within the commission and pursue the investigation of those mandated to prosecute the military aspect of Mrs. Arroyo's "total war".

The rest of the members of the Melo Commission are seen to be too close to Mrs. Arroyo for comfort, much less to demonstrate unquestionable independence. Why didn't GMA choose individuals known for their independence, probity and respected record of fighting for human rights?

At this point, the answer is not hard to come by.#

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