PHILIPPINES: The administration of impunity – government seeking to shield alleged killings mastermind from justice

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned by reports emanating from the Philippines concerning alleged attempts to provide one of the most notorious members of the armed forces of the Philippines, Major General Jovito Palparan Jr., with de facto immunity from questioning with regard to investigations into widespread extra-judicial killings. Palparan has reportedly been nominated for appointment as deputy director for counter-insurgency in the National Security Council (NSC). President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is empowered to make such appointments personally. Palparan’s appointment is expected to be finalised in the next few days. He was expected to retire today, September 11, 2006; however his appointment to the NSC would see him continue his involvement in counter-insurgency work, under which a great number of grave human rights abuses have reportedly been perpetrated, notably by forces under his command. This augurs ill for the cessation of such killings.

Such an appointment could assist Palparan in evading questioning by any investigative bodies, including the recently-formed Melo Commission, which is tasked with investigating the killings in the Philippines. By invoking Memorandum Circular 108 or by claiming national security as a pretext, it is feared that Palparan could place himself beyond the reach of investigators. Memorandum Circular 108 reportedly prevents government officials and employees from appearing before congressional inquiries without personal clearance from the President. It is said to be replication of controversial Executive Order 464, which the Supreme Court of the Philippines has declared unconstitutional.

Palparan has been named ‘the butcher of Mindoro’ by a number of political and human rights groups in the country, and is blamed for being behind many of the politically motivated killings that have cost the lives of over 700 left-leaning political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, students and members of the clergy since 2001. In addition, over 180 persons are reported to have been subjected to forced disappearance during this period. Further information concerning these killings, as well as an online petition denouncing them, can be found here:

The military in the Philippines have been conducting operations against armed leftist rebels, notably the New People’s Army (NPA), for the last 30 years. It is thought that as part of these, the military have been indiscriminately targeting members of the legal and legitimate, unarmed, leftist political spectrum in the country, notably in the period since 2001. While such attacks are, in general, being carried out by masked persons in civilian or unmarked military-style clothing, there is a growing body of evidence that points to the military and the police’s involvement in many of these killings. An example of this can be seen in AHRC’s recent urgent appeal UP-174-2006 . The authorities have claimed that they are not involved in a policy of killings, instead blaming members of armed rebel groups or independent individuals for these acts. While this may be the case in some instances, the majority of witnesses and victims’ family members believe that state-agents or persons working for them are responsible for the killings and forced disappearances, with the stark lack of credible investigations and prosecutions by the state authorities giving credence to these beliefs.

President Macapagal-Arroyo’s government has taken several steps to establish bodies to investigate the killings, although there are concerns that these are nothing more than smokescreens being set up to absorb political criticism rather than to effectively investigate the killings. Task Force Usig was set up within the Philippines National Police system in May 2006, but has failed to deliver results and has been criticised for its considerable lack of independence, which is a fundamental requirement for any body that is investigating abuses allegedly committed by state-actors or their proxies. In the face of mounting local and international criticism, the President ordered the establishment of the Melo Commission on August 21, 2006, but there are again questions as to its independence and likely effectiveness, notably as it continues to lack prosecution powers.

The areas of the Philippines in which Palparan has been in command of military forces have seen a significant escalation in terms of the numbers of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. There has been a trail of blood following Palparan as he has been moved around the country. Palparan was the commander of the Army 204th Brigade in Naujan town, Oriental Mindoro province in early 2003, where he was accused of the killing of human rights workers Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy. Despite the allegations, Palparan was promoted from Colonel to one-star Brigadier General and was sent to Iraq to lead the country’s peacekeeping mission there. When the government pulled out its Iraq contingent in 2004, Palparan was assigned as commander of the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan town, Samar province, at which time he was promoted to two-star Major General. He was later transferred to Central Luzon as commander of the 7th Infantry Division. As a result of his aggressive operations, Palparan has risen quickly through the ranks; last March received the second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Star; and received personal recognition and special praise from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her State of the Nation Address on July 25, 2006.

If the appointment of Palparan to the NSC post goes ahead, it will be seen as significantly undermining attempts to stem the continuing extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances in the country, as well as attempts to investigate these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The problem of impunity is a fundamental barrier to any attempts to stop the killings, as perpetrators know that they can carry out their acts without fear of being made accountable. It is therefore vital, in the first instance, for the President to desist from appointing Major General Jovito Palparan Jr. as deputy director for counter-insurgency in the National Security Council (NSC). Allowing him to continue to be active in counter-insurgency activities, under which it is alleged that he has ordered gross violations of human rights, can only be viewed as an attempt to provide Palaparan with impunity.

Furthermore, Palparan’s alleged role in having ordered such killings must be investigated thoroughly by a fully independent, credible and well-resourced body that has all the powers necessary to investigate and prosecute individuals, regardless of their status within the country. If the appointment of Palparan does go ahead, as is feared, President Macapagal-Arroyo must publicly announce and ensure that he will not be in any way shielded from investigation and, in the case that he is found to have been involved in the killings and disappearances, that he will face trial and punishment under the law and in line with international human rights law and standards. Anything less must be seen as complicity by the President and point to a joint governmental-military policy of killings and disappearances, concerning which the authorities continuously emit denials and yet fail to convince.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-211-2006
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Stop extra-judicial killings in the Philippines