February 22, 2007

The Alston Report

The initial report of UN rapporteur Philip Alston on his investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has vindicated the position of the victims’ families and zealous advocates of justice for the victims such as the human rights organization Karapatan, activist people’s organizations and a host of local and international faith-based, academic and professional groups and institutions that took up the cudgels for the victims. In sum, according to Mr. Alston, extrajudicial killings are a fact, they are significant in number and impact, and government is responsible for a “climate of virtual impunity” that allows the killers to get away with their crimes and for the killings to continue unimpeded.

The UN report constitutes a stinging rebuke of the chorus of denials that have consistently been issued by the de facto President Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, the high Cabinet officials who compose the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COC-IS) as well as the heads of the armed forces and the police about the existence of the problem of extrajudicial killings and its underlying as well as proximate causes.

Mr. Alston stressed, “The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country.”

Furthermore, Mr. Alston categorically rejected the explanations proffered by government that the killings are first, mere propaganda by the CPP-NPA and their “front organizations”; second, they are fabricated and thus overblown; third, they can be explained by “purges” among and within the communist movement; and fourth, the very few attributable to the AFP are undertaken by so-called “rogue elements” and thereby do not reflect on the entire military establishment.

He clearly pointed the finger in the direction of the military establishment in so far as the perpetrators of a majority of these killings. He upbraided the inability of the judicial system to render justice due to government’s failure to undertake effective police investigations that lead to actual prosecution and punishment of the guilty parties.

Apparently, Mr. Alston did not buy the line that the Arroyo government had been trying so hard to sell: that the existence of a tough and long-running communist insurgency with a sophisticated and extensive infrastructure of political support from its rural mass base to the urban centers including Congress itself necessitates a policy of constricting, if not totally eliminating, the “legitimate space for leftist political groups”.

He correctly observed that while “neither the party-list system nor the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act has been reversed by Congress…the executive branch, openly and enthusiastically aided by the military, has worked resolutely to circumvent the spirit of these legislative decisions by trying to impede the work of the party-list groups and to put in question their right to operate freely.”

Mr. Alston concedes that while such moves may be “… non-violent in conception, there are cases in which it has, certainly at the local level, spilled over into decisions to extra judicially execute those who cannot be reached by legal process.” (Read: Because the government is hard put to file and pursue the appropriate legal cases against these unarmed, aboveground activists they are justified in resorting to extrajudicial killings to permanently eliminate the nagging problem of subversion and support for the revolutionary armed struggle.)

Surprisingly, the Alston report already took note that “the increase in extrajudicial executions in recent years is attributable, at least in part, to a shift in counterinsurgency strategy…” Specifically, “in some areas, an appeal to hearts-and-minds is combined with an attempt to vilify left-leaning organizations and to intimidate leaders of such organizations. In some instances, such intimidation escalates into extrajudicial execution.”

Having acknowledged the major positive points in the initial findings, we must however point out the glaring inconsistencies and contradictory assertions of the report. What stand out are the conclusions regarding the solitary culpability of the AFP together with the hasty and categorical absolution of the highest political authority in the Arroyo regime. According to Mr. Alston, "I do not believe that there is a clear policy at the top designed to, or which directs that these killings take place," he said. "I am clear on that."

No proof that killings were given the go signal at the top? Wherefore the Oplan Bantay Laya I, the comprehensive counter-insurgency plan that has been in place since 2002, and the new OBL II that started last year? Mrs. Arroyo claims not only that she is President but that she is also the bonafide Commander-in-Chief. Mrs. Arroyo is not being held hostage by the military but is fully in agreement with and has sanctioned what Mr. Alston has so far only described as a “shift in counter-insurgency strategy” that has spawned extrajudicial killings.

Impunity? Why does Mrs. Arroyo allow the military establishment to treat accusations of human rights violations so cavalierly? Why are there no serious investigations by the police but instead flat denials and covers-up? Why has Mrs. Arroyo given quick promotions to the likes of General Palparan, not to mention singling him out in the State-of the-Nation address, heaping him with praises and giving unqualified affirmation to his controversial counter-insurgency methods?

The Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission were not so much a show of good faith on the part of Mrs. Arryo in responding to the allegations but belated moves in reaction to the growing denunciation of her government’s blackened human rights record. These were intended to help cover-up the Arroyo regime’s culpability in the political killings by engaging in the grand deception of setting up a so-called “independent and powerful investigative commission”. The Melo Commission never gained even a modicum of trust and confidence from the survivors of attempted killings and the murdered victims’ families.

That the Melo Commission report would only be disclosed to the public after the European Union representative and the UN Rapporteur demanded it indicates that the most credible and dramatic parts of the report had been released earlier only for propaganda purposes. Recall that Mrs. Arroyo used the Palace’s press release about the Melo Commission report to repeat the canard that the extrajudicial killings were overstated and that the CPP-NPA were behind them.

Mr. Alston chides the armed forces for “being in a state of almost total denial of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them.” What he misses is that it is the entire Arroyo regime, starting with Mrs. Arroyo herself, that has been in complete and absolute denial of the truth.

Unfortunately, the Alston Report fails to strike at the heart of what causes the killings and thus, as one death squad survivor predicted, more killings are bound to ensue. It will be up to the Filipino people to finally put a stop to them by putting an end to the US-backed Arroyo regime that is the real brains behind the state policy of extrajudicial killings.###


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