|Commentary: Philippine murders linked to military|
A UMNS Commentary
A Philippine soldier stands watch
near artillery in Pikit. A newly released report holds members of the
Philippine military responsible for a wave of political murders. A UMNS
file photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT.
By the Rev. R. Randy Day*
March 1, 2007
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries joins with church
leaders in the Philippines in the hope that its government will take
seriously a report indicating that military personnel are responsible
for a wave of political murders in recent years.
Estimates of those killed range from 111 to 724, and many were
political activists, including clergy, who have sided with the poor in
protesting both government and business policies since President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001.
The Board of Global Ministries is pleased to take a major role in
planning an International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights in the
Philippines set for March 12-14 in Washington. Additional information on
the event is available at www.philippinesadvocacy.org.
The matter of human rights in the Philippines is of broad concern
within the United Methodist family. We previously have joined with
United Methodist and other Christians in the Philippines in calling for a
government investigation and action to stop the killings.
Several annual conferences, including California-Pacific and
California-Nevada, addressed the matter in resolutions at their 2006
meetings. A delegation from California-Nevada returned in February from a
visitation of concern. Protection of human rights was high on the
agenda of a group from the Desert Southwest Conference that visited the
Philippines in December. Denominational representatives went to Manila a
year ago to stand in solidarity with United Methodist bishops and
others calling for an end to the killings.
The report holds members of the Philippine armed forces responsible
for the murders. It was drafted by a commission named last August under
pressure by President Arroyo and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice
Jose Melo. The report was completed in January, but it took the
intervention of the United Nations and demands from Philippine Christian
leaders to win its public release on February 23. The Arroyo government
at first refused to release the document-the findings of which are
strongly rejected by the military.
We commend Dr. Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on
Extrajudicial Killings, for endorsing the Melo report and his efforts to
win its release. We also note that some responses see the report as
letting the Arroyo government "off the hook" by putting the
responsibility on military personnel alone.
The Rev. Randy Day
The Melo report leaves open the question of the number of civilians
killed by the military. The report itself estimates the number between
111 and 136, but Amnesty International puts it at 244, and the
Philippines human rights organization Karapatan says the total is 724.
While the military enjoys broad immunity in the Philippines, the Melo
Commission said some officers could be culpable and even brought to
trial, singling out retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as particularly
vulnerable to charges. Some military leaders insist, in rejecting the
Melo findings, that civilians were inadvertently killed in the process
of defense against communist insurgents. The Melo report does not buy
The United Methodist mission board has watched and prayed as
Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders in the Philippines moved to the
forefront in demanding that their government protect advocates of
economic and social justice. We commend their courage as they now urge
government to heed the findings and recommendations of the Melo
The Melo report makes seven specific recommendations:
Exertion of a political will "to do what is right however great the cost" on all levels of government
Prompt, impartial and effective investigations, conducted independently of the military, of all the killings
Naming a special prosecution team to handle trials in a safe venue
Effective protection of witnesses
Passage of a strict law on chain-of-command responsibility within the military
Enhancement of the investigative capabilities of the police and other law enforcement units
Proper orientation and training of security forces
The report cites approval of a 2006 Amnesty International report on
the Philippines that includes a 14-point program to prevent what is
known in legal and diplomatic circles as "extra-judicial executions,"
better known as "political murders."
These points include official condemnation, chain-of-command control,
restraints on use of force, action against death squads, protection
against death threats, no secret detention, access to prisoners, legal
prohibition of such murders, individual responsibility and investigation
The report can be read in full at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA350062006
*Day is chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
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United Methodist Board of Global Ministries