President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wants the special criminal courts to start trial of summary killings of activists and journalists.
But it appears that the 99 special courts created by the Supreme Court out of the existing regional trial courts do not have enough cases to start with.
The Melo Commission has found out that out of 141 cases of summary killings of activists and journalists reported to Task Force Usig of the National Police, only 20 cases have been fully investigated and filed in court. Twenty-five others are still under preliminary investigation.
Impatient with the slow pace of the investigation, the President ordered the justice department and the Presidential Human Rights Committee to identify the cases that have already undergone preliminary investigation and ready for litigation by the special courts.
She also reminded Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez to assign highly qualified prosecutors to prosecute these high-priority cases.
“Due process is the watchword as we bring these killers to justice. Cases that are strong enough to be brought to court should be prosecuted effectively and immediately to instill confidence in the process we have put in place,” the President said.
The President issued her latest directive on this matter on the heels of the release of the US Country Report on Human Rights Practices, prepared by the US State Department.
The report on the Philippines said that in 2006, there were “a number of arbitrary, unlawful and extra-judicial killings apparently perpetrated by elements of the security services and of political killings, including killings of journalists by a variety of actors.
The report also said the New People’s Army killed local government officials, left-wing activists and civilians, including through the use of land mines.
Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye reiterated that the Arroyo administration is working hard to end extra-judicial killings even as he described the US country report as “a constructive criticism from a time-honored ally.”
“The Philippine government is carrying the agenda of President Arroyo on unexplained killings forward by setting up special courts, fielding special prosecutors, protecting witnesses and instituting internal controls within the military and police,” Bunye said.
He added that the government is increasing the legal, counter-propaganda and operational measures against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army to end the trail of mass murder and mayhem the revolutionary left has inflicted upon the people.
Chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol, whom the President assigned to follow-up on her directives to solve the summary killings, met yesterday with chairman Jose Melo of the Melo Commission and chairman Purificacion Quisumbing of the Commission on Human Rights to discuss the listing of cases of extra-judicial killings that are up for prosecution or already being tried before the courts.
Quisumbing insisted that the CHR has been investigating cases of extra-judicial killings for several years now and will continue to do so independently under its mandate without the need for any request from the administration or referral from the Melo Commission.–Fel V. Maragay, Manila Standard