UN investigates Philippine murders

Politicians are questioned as part of inquiry into string of extra-judicial killings.


    Rights groups say hundreds of people have been
      victims of extra-judicial killings
    A UN envoy has questioned congressmen in the Philippines as part of an investigation into extra-judicial killings in the country.

    Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, questioned the congressmen on Tuesday as part of his 10-day inquiry into the political killings.

    Throughout his visit protesters have tried to greet Alston. Many of them say it is the first time they have felt someone will listen to them.

    Twenty-six year old "Lenie", an activist, says she is one of the people the government wants out of the way. She lives in hiding.

    But during Alston's visit, she spoke out at a small news conference, alongside the families of other alleged victims. Later she and the others had a chance to meet with Alston.

    Lenie told Al Jazeera, in her first television interview, that she fears for her life. She said: "There is no guarantee that if I walk out of here I will still be alive tonight."

    Journalists and activists killed

    Rights organisations allege that, over the last few years, hundreds of people in the Philippines have been the victims of extra-judicial killings, many of them journalists or activists killed at home or in public places.

    In many cases their killers are said to be acting for the state.

    Lenie works with a farmers' group, but the government says she is part of a communist insurgency.

    She said: "I have to laugh because apparently it's terrorism to help the farmers with their needs. The truth of the matter is they [the government] are the purveyors of violence."

    "The true terrorists are the president, her minions and her army."

    Lenie's home was raided and, when the soldiers failed to find her, they abducted her brother. She says they threatened to hold him until she surrendered.

    The military deny the allegations.

    'The executioner'

    Many say it is the Philippines' military that carries out the killings.

    Major-General Jovito Palparan, a Philippine military official, has been quoted as calling the killings "small sacrifices", and saying he can "smile and laugh" about them.

    His critics have called him "the executioner".

    Some protesters were allowed to meet 
    the UN special envoy

    A controversial report, allegedly handed to the government by a local investigating panel, said military officers should be held accountable for their soldiers individual participation in any extra-judicial deaths.

    Hermogenes Esperon, the Philippines' armed forces chief, said: "Six of our personnel have been proven to have committed such acts but what is important is that these six personnel have been investigated ... one has been dismissed ... and so that tells you that it is not a national policy, nor do we allow or condone such unexplained activities, or unauthorised activities."

    Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippine president, has admitted that soldiers were "possibly" involved in the killings, though she insists the killings are mostly undertaken by "communist rebels".

    She has pledged to put an end to the killings and a special tribunal has been set up to try such cases.

    Victims' families are continually being asked to come forward to help with investigations but officials say the families have so far failed to co-operate.

    Protesters, though, say the government is only pretending to be transparent and, meanwhile, the killings continue.

    Alston's visit, which concludes with a news conference on Wednesday, has raised hopes of an impartial investigation into the matter.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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