AUGUST 18, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo will soon form a commission to investigate the spate of political killings, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said amid international criticism of the government’s human rights record.

The announcement by Bunye came after the fatal attacks on left-wing activists which also followed a report by the London-based Amnesty International warning that the killings of activists could lead to spiraling violence as the government intensifies its campaign against communist rebels.

"President Arroyo is now mulling over her short list of appointees for a new, powerful commission that will probe the killings of journalists and activists," Bunye said.

He said a retired Supreme Court justice, as earlier announced by Mrs. Arroyo, would lead the commission to be assisted by four members.

He said the commission will have the "credibility and the clout to move ongoing probes forward" and will examine policies, recommend reforms and mete out justice in cooperation with local and international groups.

"The President has condemned these killings in the strongest terms and is determined to take all the necessary measures to protect human rights and uphold the rule of law," Bunye said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the new body would not overlap the functions of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

"The CHR is a constitutional body separate from the executive branch. The CHR, under chairman Purificacion Quisumbing, is doing its own probe into this extra-judicial killing," Ermita pointed out.

Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo wanted to get to the bottom of the issue which prompted the creation of the fact-finding body.

"What are the real causes of these? It is very hard. We are just accusing each other that might be responsible for all these killings," Ermita said.

On Wednesday, a ranking member of a group of militant fishermen was shot dead by masked men in Obando, Bulacan a day after Amnesty International came out with the report criticizing the government for its human rights record.

The Amnesty report said there were 51 political killings in the first six months of this year compared with 66 for all of 2005.

Amnesty said the Philippine government had "failed to protect individuals and their human rights."

The assault methods, the victims’ left-wing ideology and a "climate of impunity" that has apparently shielded the killers showed "that the attacks are not an unconnected series of criminal murders but constitute a politically motivated pattern of killings," Amnesty said.

Human rights group Karapatan claimed that since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in 2001, more than 700 civilians, including at least 310 left-wing activists, have been killed by suspected security forces, who often refer to militant groups as fronts for communist rebels.

In a sharply worded criticism, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said in a statement Thursday that Mrs. Arroyo has shown "no political will to stop these killings."

The group asked whether she was supporting or incapable of stopping the killings. — With AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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