Manila Episcopal Area

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Philippines Report on Political Murders

By R. Randy Day*

The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church
joins with church leaders in the Philippines in the hope that the
government of the Republic of the Philippines will take seriously a
report indicating that military personnel are responsible for a wave of
political murders in recent years.

Many of an undetermined number of persons killed-estimates range from
111 to 724-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.

We have previously joined with United Methodist and other Christian
colleagues in the Philippines in calling for a government investigation
and action to stop the killings. The matter of human rights in the
Philippines is of broad concern within the United Methodist family.
Several annual conferences, including California-Pacific and
California-Nevada, addressed the matter in resolutions at their 2006
meetings. A delegation from California-Nevada just returned from a
visitation of concern this month. Protection of human rights was high
the agenda of a group from the Desert Southwest Conference that went to
the Philippines last December. Denominational representatives went to
Manila a year ago to stand in solidarity with United Methodist bishops
and others in the Philippines calling for an end to the killings.

The report holding members of the Philippines armed forces responsible
for the murders was drafted by a commission named under pressure by
President Arroyo last August and headed by retired Supreme Court
Jose Melo. The report was completed in January 2007, but it took the
intervention of the United Nations and demands from Philippine
leaders to win the report’s 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 UN Special Rapporteur on
Extrajudicial Killings, for his endorsement of 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 Melo report leaves open the question of the number of civilians
killed by the military. The report itself estimates the number as
between 111 and 136. Amnesty International puts it at 244, and
Karapatan, a Philippines human rights organization, says the total is

While the military enjoys broad immunity in the Philippines, the Melo
Commission said that some officers could be culpable and even brought
trial, singling out Retired Major General Jovito Palparan as
particularly vulnerable to charges. Some military leaders insist, in
rejecting the Melo findings, that civilians were inadvertently killed
the process of defense against communist insurgents. The Melo report
does not buy that argument.

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
justice. We commend their courage as they now urge government to heed
the findings and recommendations of the Melo Commission.

The General Board of Global Ministries is pleased to be taking a major
role in planning an International Ecumenical Conference on Human Rights
in the Philippines, to be held in Washington, DC on March 12-14.
Additional information on the event is available online at

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 of 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
Enhancement of the investigative capabilities of the police and other
law enforcement units.
Proper orientation and training of security forces.
The report also cites approval of a 2006 Amnesty International report
on the Philippines that includes a 14-point program for the prevention
of 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 of charges.
This report can be read in full at

*The Rev. R. Randy Day is chief executive of the General Board of
Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.


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