The Philippines Report on Political Murders:
A Mission Comment and Commentary
By R. Randy Day*
The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church joins with church leaders in the Philippines in the hope that the government of the Republic of the Philippines will take seriously a report indicating that military personnel are responsible for a wave of political murders in recent years.
Many of an undetermined number of persons killed—estimates range from 111 to 724—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.
We have previously joined with United Methodist and other Christian colleagues in the Philippines in calling for a government investigation and action to stop the killings. The matter of human rights in the Philippines is of broad concern within the United Methodist family. Several annual conferences, including California-Pacific and California-Nevada, addressed the matter in resolutions at their 2006 meetings. A delegation from California-Nevada just returned from a visitation of concern this month. Protection of human rights was high on the agenda of a group from the Desert Southwest Conference that went to the Philippines last December. Denominational representatives went to Manila a year ago to stand in solidarity with United Methodist bishops and others in the Philippines calling for an end to the killings.
The report holding members of the Philippines armed forces responsible for the murders was drafted by a commission named under pressure by President Arroyo last August and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo. The report was completed in January 2007, but it took the intervention of the United Nations and demands from Philippine Christian leaders to win the report’s 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 UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, for his endorsement of 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 Melo report leaves open the question of the number of civilians killed by the military. The report itself estimates the number as between 111 and 136. Amnesty International puts it at 244, and Karapatan, a Philippines human rights organization, says the total is 724.
While the military enjoys broad immunity in the Philippines, the Melo Commission said that some officers could be culpable and even brought to trial, singling out Retired Major General 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 General Board of Global Ministries is pleased to be taking a major role in planning an International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines, to be held in Washington, DC on March 12-14. Additional information on the event is available online at www.philippinesadvocacy.org.
The Melo report makes seven specific recommendations:
The report also cites approval of a 2006 Amnesty International report on the Philippines that includes a 14-point program for the prevention of 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. This report can be read in full at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA350062006.
Date posted: Feb 28, 2007