[PHOTO AT LEFT -  Anti-government groups stage a rally at the Batasang Pambansa yesterday demanding justice for murdered activists. Photo by BOY SANTOS]

MANILA, May 16, 2006 (STAR) By Non Alquitran - Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday to dig deeper into the 224 unsolved killings of party-list members, journalists and government officials.

Puno said that since 2001, only 61 cases arising from these 224 killings have been filed in court. The remaining 163 cases, or 73 percent of the killings, are still under investigation, he added.

"Task Force Usig" under Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr., PNP deputy director for operations, will take charge of overall case management and pursue the investigation of "unsolved killings," Puno said.

The task force will give way to the creation of a special database containing profiles of suspects, victims, incidents, intelligence summaries, forensic investigation, sketches of suspects and an assessment or analysis of each case.

Director Marcelo Ele Jr., PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM) chief, was named as Razon’s deputy commander.

Placed under the task force were the Directorate for Intelligence, Directorate for Operation, Intelligence Group, Criminal Investigation and Detective Group, Legal Service, Directorate for Police Community Relations, Crime Laboratory Service and the Public Information Office

The DIDM’s crime monitoring division will serve as the task force’s secretariat and will provide updates on cases filed before the Department of Justice and the courts.

A total of 121 party-list members have been slain since 2001, with the so-called Mimaropa (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan) region recording 28 cases or 23 percent of the killings.

Razon said 92 incidents or 76 percent of the cases involved Bayan Muna members; 23 of the victims were from Anakpawis, two were from Gabriela and four were from other militant organizations.

Only 18 criminal cases were filed in court, while the remaining 103 murders are still under investigation, he added.

From 1986 to the present, at least 69 journalists were killed, with Zamboanga Peninsula accounting for 11 of the cases.

The highest recorded number of journalists killed was 13 in 2004 and 10 cases the following year.

Thirty-nine cases were filed in court, while 30 other incidents are under investigation.

Razon said of the 13 murder cases in 2004, 12 were filed in court, while only one case remains under investigation.

Also for the last five years, at least 11 city and municipal mayors were slain, with five of the cases filed in court.

In the same period, a total of 65 killings involving government officials and employees were recorded, with 13 cases filed in court and the remaining 52 still under investigation.

Razon said militant groups accusing the police and the military of killing their members should file charges in court if they have evidence to support their claims.

"That’s a hasty generalization," he said. "If they have basis to say that then we would like to request for them to come forward, give their evidence."

Razon said he has directed the DIDM to coordinate with militant groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anak Pawis to investigate their basis for claiming the government had something to do with the killings.

Instead, he tossed the blame back to militant groups, saying they might be conducting "purges."

"As early as the 1970s, and 1980s, thousands of the members (the militant groups) were killed as a result of their operations to purge alleged spies within their ranks," he said.

Razon said the task force will assure the security of witnesses, though their protection will be provided under the justice department’s Witness Protection Program.

Reward money might be offered to those providing information leading to the identification, arrest and prosecution of the killers, he added.

The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) has created an inter-agency task force tto look into cases of violence, harassment and killings in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Chaired by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR),the task force will be comprised of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of National Defense (DND), Department Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Armed Forces (AFP).

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Bernie Cruz, chairman of the six-man task force, said they will involve the assistance of non-government organizations in their investigations.

"Although the representative from each department is yet to be designated, we have already asked those concerned to begin preparing the information, including recommendation of appropriate measures to address the problems," he said.

Cruz said the DAR is likely to employ an "armed installation" of qualified farmer-beneficiaries should owners continue to resist coverage of their lands under the CARP.

"If we are met with armed resistance, then we will be compelled to do the same with the help of the AFP and PNP and we have to do it because we have to enforce the law (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law)," he said.

Evangeline Mendoza, national council member of peasant group UNORKA, said the DAR had already used armed installation in September 1998 in a property of Domingo Reyes in Buenavista, Quezon.

The DAR with the help of the AFP and PNP "installed with force" 57 families of farmer-beneficiaries in the 153-hectare property of Reyes, she added.

Meanwhile, militant organizations are raising doubts over the impartiality of the investigation ordered by Malacañang following the spate of killings involving their members and leaders in the provinces.

The activists said that the Department of Justice, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PNP — which comprise the task force — would "whitewash" the case and save their "mercenaries" from any legal, political and moral condemnation.

"We don’t want this long search for truth and justice reduced to another mockery," the militants said.

Fernando Hicap, fisherfolk group Pamalakaya leader, said the killing of political activists nationwide was being perpetrated by government-hired assassins.

On the other hand, members of so-called progressive groups appealed to the Senate, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Commission on Human Rights to spearhead the investigation into the alleged crackdown on left-wing leaders and group members tagged by the government as front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Militant groups lambasted the government for suggesting that the killings were part of a "CPP purge."

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said "it is incredibly idiotic and malicious to blame so-called CPP purges for these deaths" and called it "patently ridiculous to deny the pattern in the killings of activists."

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. noted the "AFP’s rampage of death" has already claimed 566 lives since 2001 when President Arroyo took over from ousted president Joseph Estrada.

Reyes said those killed were not just members of party-list organizations but also members of peasant groups, trade unions and political alliances, as well as human rights workers, lawyers and church workers.

Many of the victims were known leaders of Bayan, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Karapatan, Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and other cause-oriented formations, he added.

Reyes said a great number of the murder victims were affiliated with party-list groups Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party.

"Bayan stands by its earlier pronouncement that the killings were the work of government-sponsored death squads," he said.

Reyes said the Philippines, a newly elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, has only given "a token response" to the killings.

"The rampage of death must be condemned by all freedom-loving Filipinos," he said.

On the other hand, the human rights group Karapatan said Mrs. Arroyo’s order to investigate the killings had come "belatedly."

Veteran human rights activist Marie Hilao-Enriquez said the government must make sure there are no sacred cows in the conduct of the investigation.

"They have 24 hours to come up with a list of soldiers, police and officials who have pending cases in the courts and at the joint human rights monitoring committee of the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and start investigating from there," she said.

Enriquez said she was surprised over the statement of PNP spokesman Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao that there was "no pattern" in the series of killings.

"If this is the kind of police we are dealing with, how can a government probe be significant? The main suspects of families, witnesses and even survivors are persons in authority themselves so how can we ensure impartiality when it is their colleagues being suspected, and when Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales and Gen. Pedro Cabuay already assumes that the killings are part of so-called left purges?" — With Katherine Adraneda, Cecille Suerte Felipe

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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