U.S. concerned over killings of RP activists

By Hrvoje Hranjski MANILA, Philippines, AP

The U.S. is concerned over a spate of killings of left-wing activists in the Philippines, an American official said Tuesday, joining calls by a U.N. investigator and a local inquiry for the government to take firmer action.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad to start prosecuting the perpetrators of the killings, which left-wing activists claim have killed more than 800 since 2001.

But the military denies any involvement, and accuses activists of acting as fronts for communist rebels, who have waged a 38-year nationwide rebellion and are included on U.S. and European lists of terrorist organizations.

“It is important in every democracy that such killings are investigated,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said. “Certainly, more can de done. There are continuing reports that unsolved killings are taking place and circumstances are murky.”

“The crux of the matter is the need to recognize that murder is murder is murder, no matter who is gets murdered or who is doing it,” he said. Last week, U.N. human rights investigator Philip Alston and a fact finding commission created by Arroyo found members of the military culpable in a number of killings, which are typically carried out by unidentified motorcycle-riding gunmen. In most cases, witnesses are afraid to come forward.

Arroyo has vowed to resolve the killings and uphold “the good name of 99 percent of soldiery.”

But analysts say she may be in a difficult position to act against the military, a key power-broker in often tumultuous Philippine politics. Generals withdrew support from late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and helped oust President Joseph Estrada in 2001, when Arroyo took power.

The Philippine commission singled out retired army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who has been demonized by activists as a “butcher” for allegedly ordering killings in areas where he was deployed. The commission said he and his superiors may be held responsible under the principle of command responsibility.

Palparan told reporters Friday the findings were “mostly just a re-echoing of the enemy’s propaganda.”

Armed forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has called the reports unfair, criticizing the commission and Alston for ignoring evidence of alleged rebel assassinations and internal purges.