Nabbing political assassins in the Philippines

Updated On: Feb 02, 2007

The Filipino government has found that most of the individuals behind the assassinations of leftwing political activists were members of the country’s military.

More than 800 people have been gunned down, execution-style, by the Philippines’ security forces since 2001.

These were the results of an official probe established by the Filipino President to examine the mechanics behind the political assassinations. Under pressure from human rights groups like Amnesty International and the business lobby in the country (especially from the Europeans and the Americans) in 2006, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo created the Melo Commission to investigate the links between the military and the spate of political assassinations.

Retired supreme court justice Jose Melo, outraged by the findings, recommended that  military commanders should be held accountable for the shootings in their areas of duty. 'Some of the killings were attributed to politicians, some to the security guards of landlords but (the) majority of the killings pointed to these military elements,' Mr Melo was quoted as saying in a telephone interview.

This is of grave concern to the Philippines’s political elite because local and field commanders who act on their own to kill their political opponents without command and control from the top can have vast destabilizing effects on the rule of law in the Southeast Asian state. Suspicions have even fallen on the head of state but Mrs Arroyo has denied any official involvement in the killings and chose to withdraw any comments on the outcome of the probe.

The government probe’s findings have decisively shifted the blame for the assassinations away from previous explanations provided by the Filipino military and government that communist rebels like the New People's Army were responsible for these killings. Internal political rivalry and infighting within the leftwing and Communist groups were cited as reasons for their self-inflicted wounds, relying on political assassinations to purge their own ranks of rival factions.

The perception of the Filipino government’s inaction on the issue has prompted activists within ASEAN countries to voice their discontent. One of them, Dita Indah Sari, head of the National Front for Indonesian Labor Struggle, urged the Philippine government to implement Melo’s recommendations to make top military generals accountable for the series of killings against leftwing activists.

The call by Indah Sari, who was honoured with Philippines Magsaysay Awards for emerging leadership in 2001, is supported by powerful leftwing groups and movements from Europe and South America, the leaders of whom have converged upon Manila to attend the Asian Conference on Participatory Democracy and Alternative Forms of Popular Power at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. This lobby power will add to the existing voices amongst Western businesses as well as human rights groups to pressure the Filipino military and ultimately the President to stop the political assassinations that are symbolic and typical of banana Republics of yore.

The final straw in this saga may be the European Union (EU)’s voices adding into the fray. So far, it has been non-government groups that have been pressuring thePhilippines to really clampdown on political assassinations. But now, the European Union has more than once expressed alarm over the unabated killing of leftist activists, and called on the Philippine government to put a stop to the murders. Unable control or override powerful forces within the Filipino military which is a crucial support base for Arroyo in fending off coups, the President has made a risky decision to include EU investigators in the official government probe. Involving foreigners in a clearly domestic issue that is increasingly politicized could make or break this already fragile presidency.  (01/2/07)


Arroyo to seek Europe help in probing slays (Philippines Inquirer, 31 Jan 2007)

Philippine killings probe blames military (AFP/ST, 30 Jan 2007)

RP must act on Melo report, says Magsaysay laureate (Philippines Inquirer, 30 Jan 2007)