This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (www.bulatlat.com, www.bulatlat.net, www.bulatlat.org).
Vol. VII, No. 3, Feb. 18-24, 2007


 

Victims’ families say:
'UN Rep Visit Won’t Stop Killings’

A student activist was killed last February 15 while the United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions was meeting with executives of the National Security Council. This has led human rights groups to conclude that there is no end in sight for political killings in the country.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Bulatlat

Just as Philip Alston, United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions, met with executives of the National Security Council (NSC) in Quezon City on Feb 15, another student activist was killed in Camarines Norte.

Farly Alcantara, 22, a graduating student of the Camarines Norte State College in Daet, Camarines Norte (350 kms. south of Manila), was shot to death by still unidentified men in front of his school at around 9:45 p.m. He was an active member of the progressive student organization League of Filipino Students (LFS) which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) accused as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The murder of Alcantara shows that political killings will not stop with the visit of Alston, human rights worker Marie Hilao-Enriquez said. The UN representative arrived in the country on Feb. 10 and is on a 10-day visit here. Alston is one of 43 experts in the UN who is tasked to investigate political killings.

Wala kaming ilusyon na ang UN ang makakapagpahinto sa killings. Gobyerno lang ang makakapagpahinto ng mga pagpatay dahil ang gobyerno ang gumagawa nyan,” (We have no illusion that the UN can stop the killings. Only the government that perpetuates it can stop it.) Hilao-Enriquez, secretary general of the human rights watchdog Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights) said.

From Jan. 2001 to Feb. 15, 2006, Karapatan has recorded 833 individuals killed – the latest being Alcantara – allegedly by state security forces and its death squad.

After the visit, Alston is expected to submit a country report to the UN. The latter, however, does not have the power to sanction governments that are proven to violate human rights.

International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) president Edre Olalia said that the UN report cannot in any way be used as evidence in court should any of the victims’ families decide to file a case against the perpetrators.

Bright hope

Despite this, Erlinda Manano, mother of murdered activist Isaias, said the Alston visit is a “bright hope” for the families of the victims of political killings in the country. “Nakakapagpalakas ng loob,” (It strengthens one’s resolve) was how she described the UN investigation.

She said she has lost all hope that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration could give justice to the death of Isaias who was killed April 23, 2004 in Calapan, the city capital of the island-province of Mindoro Oriental. Pinapatay nila (government) ang hustisya at binabaon ang katotohanan gaya ng pagpatay at pagbaon nila sa anak ko. Ang hangad namin ay managot ang may kasalanan.” (They kill justice and bury the truth just like the way they killed and buried the body of my son. What we want is for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.)

After getting the flak from local and international community about the spate of political killings in the country, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration created the Philippine National Police (PNP)-led Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission, a special investigating body headed by former justice Jose Melo.

Families of the victims, however, considered the police and Melo investigations tainted and biased, Hilao-Enriquez said. “What the victims’ families and the human rights community wanted all along was an independent body to investigate the killings.”

Hilao-Enriquez told Alston in a meeting that the victims’ families want to testify before him because they see the UN representative as an independent expert. “The victims’ families want to tell Alston what they feel and what they have gone through after their loved ones have been killed.”

Significance

Aside from being a source of strength to the victims’ families, Olalia said that the UN visit is a “clear manifestation that the level and gravity of the extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions in the country has reached a very high and alarming state that compelled the UN special rapporteur to come over and see for himself the situation. It is also a product of the painstaking efforts of human rights organizations and victims to bring their plight to the international fora and a reflection of the serious concern of the international community about the sad state of human rights in the country.”

In 2006, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) and the European Union (EU), among others, expressed concern over the murders and enforced disappearances in the Philippines under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The EU has, in fact, expressed its willingness to help the Philippine government investigate the reports of violations of human rights especially in 2005 and 2006.

Olalia said that the EU helped in persuading the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to finally allow the UN visit. “The government was compelled to invite the UN.”

Olalia and Hilao-Enriquez were part of the Philippine delegation that attended the UN Human Rights Council Second Session in Geneva in August 2006. They also met with the Finish and French missions and the EU. “We asked these countries to always put the issue of political repression in their agenda with the Philippine government,” Hilao-Enriquez said.

Sabotage?

The Alston visit has therefore become a most anticipated event in the country especially by the victims’ families who have long waited for an independent body to investigate the killings in the country, Hilao-Enriquez said.

However, she said that the government had tried to sabotage the Alston visit. Since the visit was upon the invitation of the government, Hilao-Enriquez said Alston’s schedule was filled with meetings and sessions with government offices. Meetings with the victims were scheduled only for the whole day of Feb. 14 and short visits to Baguio City in the north and Davao City in the south.

Matagal kaming naghintay. Bakit isang araw lang ang inilaan para sa amin?” (We waited for so long. Why were we given only one day to meet with him?) asked Glen Malabanan, 23, daughter of a slain Bayan Muna (People First) coordinator in Bay, Laguna. His father was only 42 when he was killed two days before Christmas in 2003.

Alston’s schedule include meetings with the National Security Council, the host of the UN visit, which is headed by Secretary Norberto Gonzales, the same security person who has alleged that those who have been summarily executed were members of legal organizations and party-list groups that he claims are fronts organizations of the CPP. He had also told the media that the killings are part of a purge within the communist movement.

The UN expert also met with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) top brass, the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights, among others.

When it was time for Alston to meet with the victims, Hilao-Enriquez said government agents tried to terrify the victims by sending K-9 dogs early morning of Feb. 14 to the venue where the interviews were going to be held. The building administrator later declared there was bomb threat in the venue.

As the interviews with the victims’ families were ongoing, a man posing as a journalist went to the venue and said he wanted to interview the victims’ families. “It was part of an agreement with Alston not to announce the venue of the interviews for security reasons. There was no way the media would know where we were. We never told them,” Hilao-Enriquez said.

One of Karapatan’s security personnel later recognized that the man posing as a journalist was accompanied by four others, one of whom was identified as a personnel of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).

“We can only suspect that they were government intelligence agents because only the government knows where we were. They know our schedule because it was the government who finalized Alston’s itinerary,” she said.

Challenge

Although the Alston visit has its significance, Malabanan said that justice can only be attained through persistence in the struggle that his father has left behind. Nandun pa rin sa family yung takot pero kung tatahimik lang kami, hindi magkakaron ng hustisya ang pagkamatay ng aming mahal sa buhay,” she said. (The family members left behind are afraid but if we just keep quiet, we will never get justice for the death of our loved ones.)

As proof to her determination, Malabanan said that she has in fact stepped into her father’s shoes and is now secretary general of the victims’ families group Martyr ng Bayan-Southern Tagalog. She said that she is also busy campaigning for her father’s party Bayan Muna in the coming elections.

Kung hindi kami kikilos, mas madaming aapihin at papatayin na lang ng walang laban,” she said. (If we will not act, thee will be more people who will be oppressed and killed without wanton.) Bulatlat

 

© 2007 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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