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Death Squads / EJK [Extra-Judicial Killing]

Political violence is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. Extrajudicial killings committed by the security forces, the terrorists, New People's Army, or others were common during the Marcos dictatorship and have continued -- albeit with less frequency -- since that time. Since 2000 there has been an increase in reports of extrajudicial killings. Hundreds of extrajudicial killings have taken place throughout the Philippines. Those targeted have included journalists, religious leaders, political figures, human rights activists, and union leaders. For too long the Government of the Philippines has not taken sufficient action to address extrajudicial killings and bring those responsible to justice.

BGen. Jaime C. Echeverria (Ret), President, Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO), also a member of the panel of the Zenarosa Commission, said in February 2010 that there are around 132 private armies or private armed groups and over 1 million unlicensed firearms all over the country. The commission was formed December 2009 by virtue of President Arroyo’s Administrative Order No. 275 in the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre that left 57 people dead, mostly women and journalists. It seeks the help of some Muslim religious leaders to dismantle private armies specially in Mindanao.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Melo Commission, established by President Arroyo in August 2006, released a report on extrajudicial killings in January 2007 which concluded that evidence existed implicating the armed forces; a position supported by HRW's own investigations and interviews with eyewitnesses (HRW June 2007). The Independent Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings was chaired by the Associate Justice (retired) of the Supreme Court, José Melo.

Amnesty International documented that hundreds had been killed, politically assassinated, by suspected vigilante groups who may have been linked to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The targets were political leaders and social activists who have been directly connected, or indirectly connected, to the Communist Party of the Philippines. Concern over a rise in the number of political killings increased during President Arroyo's administration [2001-2010] as provincial military commanders made public statements linking legal leftist parties directly with the CPP-NPA.

Most of the attacks were carried out by unidentified assailants on motorcycles, at times wearing face masks, who were often described as "vigilantes" or hired killers allegedly linked to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Many attacks were described as having been carried out in a "professional" manner, with the killers striking in broad daylight in public places, firing a limited number of shots targeted at the head or trunk of the body of the targeted person, before escaping unimpeded. In some cases, those attacked had reportedly been under surveillance by people linked to the security forces or had received death threats. Those most at risk include members of legal leftist political parties, including Bayan Muna (People First) and Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), other human rights and community activists, priests, church workers, and lawyers regarded by the authorities as sympathetic to the broader Communist movement.

Though reassured by President Arroyo's public condemnation of political killings in July 2006, the absence of consistent denunciation, at all levels of government, of any form of official involvement in political killings contributed to persistent concerns that such counterinsurgency strategies would consolidate, in practice, into an implicit policy of toleration of such political killings.

The Melo Commission Report found that the killings of activists appear to be part of "an orchestrated plan" and that the Philippine National Police had made little progress in investigating or prosecuting cases. The Commission concluded that circumstantial evidence linked "some elements" of the military to the killings, but given the lack of witnesses there is insufficient evidence to support successful prosecutions or convictions; there is no official or sanctioned policy by the military or its civilian superiors to resort to illegal liquidations; there is no definitive accounting of the actual number of killings, but "even one is too many"; the killing of journalists is mostly attributable to reprisals from politicians, warlords, or business interests, rather than agents of the government; and prosecutions have been more successful when there is a greater willingness of witnesses to testify.

In February 2007, after a 10-day fact-finding mission to the Philippines, Phillip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, released a statement in which he said the Philippine Armed Forces were, "In a state of almost total denial" on the need to address, "the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them." And that a "culture of impunity" exists between the Philippine Justice System. In response, the Philippine Government issued statements vowing to solve the killings.

Following the issuance of the Melo Commission report, the Philippine Government took several important steps. The AFP issued a new directive reiterating the principle of command responsibility and established its own Human Rights Office to investigate -- along with the Philippine Commission on Human Rights -- cases in which involvement by military elements is alleged. The Philippine Department of Justice strengthened and expanded the government's witness protection program. At President Arroyo's request, the Philippine Supreme Court has established special courts to handle these cases. President Arroyo also instructed the Philippine Department of Justice and the Presidential Human Rights Committee to prioritize cases for trials by these special courts.

The most significant human rights problems continued to be extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances undertaken by security forces, insurgents, and suspected vigilante groups; a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for poor cooperation between police and investigators, a meager record of prosecutions and lengthy procedural delays; and widespread official corruption and abuse of power.

Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by antigovernment insurgents continued to be a serious problem. The number of alleged extrajudicial killings and torture cases varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions of extrajudicial killings. Credible local human rights NGOs claim government forces and anti-government insurgents continue to be responsible for disappearances. Members of the security forces and police routinely abuse and sometimes torture suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

Human rights groups continue to note little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection through the witness protection program managed by the DOJ due to inadequate funding or procedural delays.

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Page last modified: 12-05-2016 19:06:06 ZULU