MANILA — Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today lamented that the Melo Commissions investigation into the extra-judicial killings of political activists and journalists is getting nowhere owing to the haphazard manner it is conducting the probe and the Commissions apparent lack of independence.
Pimentel expressed dismay that the six-man Commission, chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, has not yet called to its hearings the witnesses to the slayings and the relatives of the victims more than five weeks after it was created by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Aug. 21.
He said the fact-finding panel started on the wrong foot by first inviting top military and police officials ahead of the witnesses who could shed light on the killings. Those who have already testified include Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; retired Army Gen. Jovito Palparan; and the Philippine National Police deputy director general Avelino Razon, head of Task Force Usig, which is also tasked with looking into the killings.
Pimentel said that by first summoning military and police officials to the inquiry, the Commission may have created the disturbing impression that it is giving more importance to their claim that other armed groups and not the military, should be blamed for the killings of leftists activists.
The lack of progress in the investigation of the extra-judicial killings only bolsters the criticism that the Arroyo government lacks the political will and sincerity to solve the extra-judicial killings. Worse, it also gives rise to suspicion that the Melo Commission is programmed to fail, he said.
And that the investigation that was ordered by President Arroyo is nothing but one big charade.
If Melo Commission will fail in its assigned tasks, Pimentel said this could be attributed to its ineffectiveness and lack of independence due to the following:
1. The Commission does not have power to cite for contempt the witnesses who will ignore its summons or who will refuse to answer questions during the inquiry.
2. As indicated in Executive Order 157 creating the Melo Commission, it could not even assure protection to witnesses who will testify in its hearings.
3. The Commission does not have a specific budget although EO 157 states that the Office of the President will provide funding for its operations.
4. Flawed composition of the Melo Commission by including chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuno and National Bureau of Investigation Director Nestor Mantaring despite the fact that they belong to the Department of Justice that is under the direct supervision and control of the Office of the President.
Pimentel said that the existing Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent body created by the Constitution, is more capable of carrying out an impartial, objective and credible probe than the Melo Commission.
He said the CHR is even empowered under the Constitution to grant immunity to witnesses. He said the CHR is only hampered by the lack of adequate funds to undertake full blown inquiry into the extra-judicial killings.
Pimentel challenged President Arroyo to accept the suggestion of the Amnesty International (AI) to expand the membership of the Melo Commission by including representatives of non-government organizations that have the track record of experience in investigating human rights violations.
He bewailed the fact that the President, during her visit to the London last month, invited the Amnesty International to send its representatives to the Philippines to observe the activities of the Melo Commission. But when the AI presented such recommendation, this was cold-shouldered by the President.
Pimentel said the President also turned a deaf ear to the proposal of the National Press Club for the designation of a media representative in the fact finding Commission.
It is regrettable that the President is not receptive to the well-meaning recommendations from concerned groups and sectors that would ensure a fair and truthful investigation and enhance the credibility of the Commission, he said.
Pimentel observed that the President is obviously under pressure from the military to go slow on the investigation considering that soldiers have been tagged as the culprits behind many of the extra-judicial killings. He said the President, being dependent on the AFP for support, obviously does not want to see some generals embarrassed by being portrayed as the villains in the inquiry. (Office of Senator Pimentel)Extrajudicial Killings