|Commentary: Philippine murders linked to military|
A UMNS Commentary
A Philippine soldier stands watch near artillery in Pikit. A newly released report holds members of the Philippine military responsible for a wave of political murders. A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT.
By the Rev. R. Randy Day*
March 1, 2007
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries joins with church leaders in the Philippines in the hope that its government will take seriously a report indicating that military personnel are responsible for a wave of political murders in recent years.
Estimates of those killed range from 111 to 724, and many were political activists, including clergy, who have sided with the poor in protesting both government and business policies since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001.
The Board of Global Ministries is pleased to take a major role in planning an International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines set for March 12-14 in Washington. Additional information on the event is available at www.philippinesadvocacy.org.
The matter of human rights in the Philippines is of broad concern within the United Methodist family. We previously have joined with United Methodist and other Christians in the Philippines in calling for a government investigation and action to stop the killings.
Several annual conferences, including California-Pacific and California-Nevada, addressed the matter in resolutions at their 2006 meetings. A delegation from California-Nevada returned in February from a visitation of concern. Protection of human rights was high on the agenda of a group from the Desert Southwest Conference that visited the Philippines in December. Denominational representatives went to Manila a year ago to stand in solidarity with United Methodist bishops and others calling for an end to the killings.
The report holds members of the Philippine armed forces responsible for the murders. It was drafted by a commission named last August under pressure by President Arroyo and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo. The report was completed in January, but it took the intervention of the United Nations and demands from Philippine Christian leaders to win its public release on February 23. The Arroyo government at first refused to release the document-the findings of which are strongly rejected by the military.
We commend Dr. Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, for endorsing the Melo report and his efforts to win its release. We also note that some responses see the report as letting the Arroyo government "off the hook" by putting the responsibility on military personnel alone.
The Rev. Randy Day
The Melo report leaves open the question of the number of civilians killed by the military. The report itself estimates the number between 111 and 136, but Amnesty International puts it at 244, and the Philippines human rights organization Karapatan says the total is 724.
While the military enjoys broad immunity in the Philippines, the Melo Commission said some officers could be culpable and even brought to trial, singling out retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as particularly vulnerable to charges. Some military leaders insist, in rejecting the Melo findings, that civilians were inadvertently killed in the process of defense against communist insurgents. The Melo report does not buy that argument.
The United Methodist mission board has watched and prayed as Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders in the Philippines moved to the forefront in demanding that their government protect advocates of economic and social justice. We commend their courage as they now urge government to heed the findings and recommendations of the Melo Commission.
The Melo report makes seven specific recommendations:
Exertion of a political will "to do what is right however great the cost" on all levels of government
Prompt, impartial and effective investigations, conducted independently of the military, of all the killings
Naming a special prosecution team to handle trials in a safe venue
Effective protection of witnesses
Passage of a strict law on chain-of-command responsibility within the military
Enhancement of the investigative capabilities of the police and other law enforcement units
Proper orientation and training of security forces
The report cites approval of a 2006 Amnesty International report on the Philippines that includes a 14-point program to prevent what is known in legal and diplomatic circles as "extra-judicial executions," better known as "political murders."
These points include official condemnation, chain-of-command control, restraints on use of force, action against death squads, protection against death threats, no secret detention, access to prisoners, legal prohibition of such murders, individual responsibility and investigation of charges.
The report can be read in full at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA350062006
*Day is chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
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