‘AFP uses death squads’ — Melo

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — THE five-member Melo Commission has tagged “special teams” in the Armed Forces—called “death squads” by militant leftist groups—as having possibly carried out summary killings of leftist activists.

In its 86-page report released to reporters yesterday, the Commission, led by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, concludes there is some circumstantial evidence that a certain group in the military is responsible for the killings.

“To maintain otherwise would be closing one’s eyes to reality,” the independent fact-finding panel says in its report on its four-month probe of the political and media slayings.

The Commission holds that retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, and perhaps some of his superior officers, may be held responsible for failing to prevent, punish or condemn the killings under the principle of command responsibility.

But the panel says there is no direct evidence linking some members of the military to the killings.

“There is no official or sanctioned policy on the part of the military or its civilian superiors to resort to what other countries euphemistically call “alternative procedures”—meaning illegal liquidations,” the report says.

“However, there is certainly evidence pointing the fingers of suspicion at some elements and personalities in the Armed Forces, in particular General Palparan, as responsible for an undetermined number of killings, by allowing, tolerating and even encouraging the killings.”

While acknowledging that a small number of soldiers could have been involved in the killings, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said that should not blot the military’s record in fighting criminals.

“While the Armed Forces deal decisively with the issue of unexplained killings, I extol the 99 percent of our good and valiant soldiers who are on a 24 by 7 alert to safeguard the people and the nation,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“The government is not in denial. These killings will be resolved and the Armed Forces shall continue to be a vanguard for freedom,” she said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the President was deeply concerned over the findings of the Commission that implicates some military men in the killings.

“It pains her to read that some elements of the military have been involved. Most of the members of the AFP are doing their jobs, and they are willing to lay their lives for the defense of the country. But there are some bad eggs.”

The government released the report a day after United Nations investigator Philip Alston slammed the military for being in “a state of denial” over the “significant number of killings” of left-wing activists by soldiers.

The human rights group Karapatan has accused security forces of carrying out most of the 832 killings that it says had happened since 2001, when Mrs. Arroyo took power, including the deaths of 356 left-wing activists.

Leftists blame Palparan for some of the killings, describing him as a “butcher” and accusing him of ordering the killings. But Palparan denies any wrongdoing.

Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon admitted receiving reports linking Palparan to the killings, but dismissed them as communist propaganda. He admitted no formal investigation of Palparan was conducted by the military because no complaint was filed, the Melo report notes.