OCTOBER 4, 2006 (STAR) By Cecille Suerte Felipe - A police task force sent to go after killers of journalists and leftist activists has claimed to have arrested 12 suspects and solved 10 cases of extrajudicial killings, a week before the deadline imposed by President Arroyo.

In a four-page report to Mrs. Arroyo Monday, Philippine National Police chief Director General Oscar Calderon said "Task Force Usig," headed by Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr. has filed in court 21 cases involving the murder of journalists and leftist activists.

"The Task Force Usig is pleased to inform Your Excellency that we have complied with her directive with the filing of a total of 21 cases in court," read the report.

Of the 21 cases solved, 17 victims were activists or members of party-list organizations, while four others were journalists.

"This is well beyond 10 cases and 10 suspects the President required us to achieve," said Razon. "But I would like to emphasize that the Task Force Usig will continue working."

Speaking at the PNP-sponsored forum Talakayan sa Isyu ng Pulis, Razon said criminal cases have been filed against members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army who are believed to be involved in the murders of members of party-list organizations and cause-oriented groups.

Razon said the PNP has invited the human rights group Karapatan to sit down with Task Force Usig to assess their records of slain militants.

When the PNP started its investigation, there were 250 cases of extrajudiciaL killings, which were later trimmed down to 110, he added.

"We have also arrested 12 suspects over a span of nine months," Razon added.

Meanwhile, the fact-finding body created by Mrs. Arroyo to look into the killings said yesterday its investigation could be delayed because no witness has come forward to shed light on the killings.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, who heads the independent Melo Commission, told reporters after yesterday’s proceedings that human rights groups like Karapatan could be reluctant to appear before the five-member commission due to speculations that they are biased and could be influenced by the administration.

"We have repeatedly said that they should give us a chance to prove that the Melo Commission is independent," he said.

"We will not allow ourselves to be pressured or influenced by anyone. As I have said, if someone tries to influence us, that is the time that we will pack up and close shop."

Melo said they fear that the lack of witnesses from militant groups, whose members were killed or kidnapped, would force them to base the results of their investigation on information given them by those who appeared in their hearings.

"With no families of victims coming out, we have to start our work based on available information," he said. "But it is not a dilemma, we are just waiting for witnesses."

Commission on Human Rights Chairwoman Purificacion Quisumbing, who appeared during yesterday’s hearing, said in an interview that there is a need for a special court to speed up the process of serving justice to the victims of extrajudicial killings.

"If we have special courts for drug cases, why not a special court for cases of extra-judicial killings?" she said.

Quisumbing said this move would be part of the government’s responsibility to provide "effective remedy" to the growing number of cases of extra-judicial killings in the country.

"The present action of the government shows no sign of accountability," she said. — With Artemio Dumlao, James Mananghaya, Ma. Neriza Reyes

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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