Political killings traced to Philippine military
These days, Boy Facunla is afraid to return home to the sun-drenched rice paddies of central Luzon, the region where he raised a family of eight and became active in local left-wing politics. Now, he spends his days hiding out in a cramped Manila office, fearing that a spate of unexpected murders in his community may one day turn on him.Skip to next paragraph
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"I haven't been home in two years. I'm the number one target in my area," he says in an interview held at the office of a farmers' union. "We think it's the military behind these killings."
Mr. Facunla is not alone in his suspicions. Since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office with the backing of the powerful military, hundreds of left-wing activists, unionists, farmers, human rights workers, and clergy have been slain, sparking accusations of a systematic, nationwide campaign to silence those who challenge the status quo.
A government commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge Jose Melo issued a long-awaited report Thursday that put the blame for much of the violence on the Philippine military. The damning report came one day after a visiting United Nations investigator said the military was in a "state of denial" about its involvement in the killings.
However, Philip Alston, a law professor at New York University and the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said that the "death squads" weren't state sanctioned.
"I do not believe that there's a policy at the top designed to direct these killings," he told a press conference at the end of a 10-day trip by the invitation of the Philippine government.
The Melo commission concurred, saying elements in the military had acted outside the law and called for an independent agency to investigate the security forces.
The military swung back at the commission, calling the report "strained, unfair, and a blank accusation."
"I believe that Mr. Alston might be in a state of denial himself," said Gen. Hermogenes Esperon at a news conference on Wednesday.
Ms. Arroyo has proposed creating special courts to try cases of extrajudicial killings. But ending a culture of impunity in the military won't be easy, not least because of its tight hold on local and national politics. It has also garnered substantial US assistance since 2001 for its war on terror, and its elite troops are being trained by US Special Forces.
The commission's findings are likely to increase pressure on Arroyo. Midterm elections in May could tip the balance in Congress against her. The president's opponents already tried unsuccessfully to impeach her once in 2005 over election fraud allegations.
Security officials reject claims of military death squads, calling them left-wing propaganda by groups that they consider to be fronts for the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA). Indeed, while the US is fixated on the fight against Islamic extremists in the southern Philippines, Arroyo's advisers say the greater threat comes from Communist insurgents that roam across the country.