Philippine commission holds retired general responsible for killings

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The head of the Melo Commission announced they had recommended that retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and other commanders be "held responsible for the extrajudicial killings in their respective areas during their tours of duty".

Melo commission, formed in August 2006 by the president to look into the spate of politically related killings after local and international clamor, submitted the 89-page report of the commission to the president last week but the findings have not yet been made public.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo said holding military commanders responsible for extrajudicial killings was one of the recommendations in the final report.

Melo reportedly said the investigation of the four-member panel showed that “majority of the victims were leftist-activist-militants” and that the suspected assailants belonged to the military.

He clarified though that they "don’t want to tag the whole military establishment", adding that "only elements of the military who were allowed to do their thing without supervision from higher officers."

He attributed "some of the killings to politicians, some to the security guards of landlords," but Melo pointed to the military elements for majority of the killings.

Earlier, another member of the commission, Butuan City Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, on Saturday said the military was involved in some attacks of leftists.

"We have identified that there are killings really perpetuated by the military," he said.

He remarked that the Melo Commission has recommended to President Arroyo that military commanders be held criminally liable if one of their subordinates were found guilty of political murders.

"We are suggesting the criminalization of the command responsibility in order to put more teeth in the aspect of peace and to stop the killings," the Bishop said.

Commission head Melo also confirmed, report said, that among those mentioned in the fact-finding report was Palparan, who retired in September 2006. Leftist groups had labeled Palparan “berdugo” (butcher) for the spate of killings during his tenure as commander in Mindoro, Samar, and Nueva Ecija provinces.

"He has said he inspired them. You can hook the fish through the mouth,” Melo said, referring to a media interview given by Palparan where he admitted he had "inspired" some people to "punish" suspected communist New People’s Army rebels who had committed crimes in their communities.

Palparan was one of four military officials who testified before the commission. They were the only witnesses who responded to the commission’s summonses.

Leftist groups and families of victims had boycotted the hearings of the commission, saying it lacked credibility and independence.

For his part, Jovito Palparan admitted on Monday that some soldiers could be involved in extrajudicial killings of left-wing activists.

"It's possible," Palparan was heard saying in a radio interview, noting that "some [soldiers] are victims so it's not surprising that some get angry because it's their lives on the line."

Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan called on the Melo Commission on Monday to recommend punishment for the masterminds and perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, which, it said, mostly came from the military.

Dorris Cuario, secretary general of regional chapter of Karapatan in Southern Tagalog, said the initial report of the commission was not enough to solve the unabated political killings in the country. Southern Tagalog covers the province of Mindoro where Palparan's assignment as military commander coincided with escalation of human rights violations reportedly perpetrated by military elements.

"We hope [the report] is not just a facade of the commission to make people believe it was doing something," she said.

Cuario challenged the Melo Commission "to serve justice" by demanding for the punishment not only of the low-ranking policemen and soldiers but also of AFP generals and even Ms. Arroyo, whom Cuario and other militant groups point to as the masterminds of the killings.

Aside from Melo and Bishop de Dios Pueblos, the other commission members were National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Nestor Mantaring, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, and University of the Philippines Regent Nelia Gonzales.