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[Open Letter] Alleged rights abuses by army demand full investigations, not whitewashing

July 27, 2006

An Open Letter to the new chief of the Philippine National Police by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Director General Oscar Calderon
Chief, Philippine National Police
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City

Fax: +63 2724 8763

Dear General Calderon

PHILIPPINES: Alleged rights abuses by army demand full investigations, not whitewashing

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has read with concern your interview published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer of 25 July 2006 entitled, "PNP clears Palparan on killings". The article refers to how you have exonerated Major General Jovito Palparan, the commander of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army from allegations of serious rights violations.

As you are aware, the AHRC has sent both you and your predecessor the details of a number of alleged grave human rights violations, including killings, by Palparan and his subordinates. We have rightly sought impartial and effective investigations into these. It therefore comes as a shock to the AHRC to read the remark attributed to you that, "[Palparan] was never implicated in any of our investigations so we have never asked for his statement (regarding the allegations)."

Allow us to take a moment to remind you of some of the recent incidents attributed to troops under the command of Major General Palparan:

1. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE: On the night of 13 October 2005, Tomas Paras, a 47-year-old rebel returnee was arbitrarily arrested and taken away by elements of 24th Infantry Battalion, one of whom was reportedly Staff Sergeant Elizaldo Betty. He has not been seen since. No investigation is known to have been conducted.

2. TORTURE & INTIMIDATION: In November 2005, labour leader Enrico Estarez was alleged to have been threatened by an officer and men attached to the 24th Infantry Battalion in San Miguel, Bulacan. Estarez went into hiding; three of his colleagues, namely Francis Paraon, Reynaldo Pizon and Herminio Zuniga, were reportedly tortured at a military detachment. No charges are known to have been laid. Estarez and his family have not received any government-sponsored protection.

3. INTIMIDATION: Since December 2005, 54-year-old Yolanda Lorenzana, her daughter Aileen Gutierez, and her ten children have left their village in Barangay Pinaod, San Ildefonso, Bulacan, for fear of the lives due to continuous harassment by the military. Elements of the 24th Infantry Battalion led by Master Sergeant Rollie Castillo allegedly forced Yolanda to disclose the whereabouts of two men, identified as "Emon" and "Ogie", whom they claimed to be rebels and the sons of Lorenzana. There has been no known investigation into the family's alleged intimidation.

4. EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING: On 16 January 2006, 61-year-old activist Ofelia Rodriguez (a.k.a. Nanay Perla) of Barangay Divisoria, Mexico, Pampanga, was shot dead by two gunmen believed to be working for the military. Prior to the murder, 2nd Lt. John Paul Nicolas, head of the 69th Infantry Battalion, allegedly threatened to kill Rodriguez and had given a gun to her neighbour in order to carry out the killing. Earlier she was reportedly forced to state that she was a rebel leader. We are not aware of any progress in the murder investigation, or inquiries about the army's alleged role.

5. ABDUCTION & EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING: On 31 January 2006, Allan Ibasan and Dante Salgado were found dead at a funeral home a day after they were arrested and forcibly taken in Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac, allegedly by four military men attached to the 71st Infantry Battalion. It is reported that seven other villagers were harassed, namely Glen Ibasan (17), Cesar Andaya (44), Annie Salgado, Reynaldo Reyla, Ricky Salgado, Eduardo Magallanes, Dominic Reyla. Again the soldiers are not known to have not been investigated regarding their possible involvement in the killings.

6. EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING: On 13 February 2006, 19-year-old activist Audie Lucero was found dead in Barangay Capitangan, Abucay, Bataan, nearby a hospital where a day earlier he was seen when the building was approached by Lubao (Pampanga) Police, and then by more than ten personnel of the 24th Infantry Battalion. Yet again, there is no known investigation into the alleged connection between his killing and the security forces present at the time. 

7. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE & INTIMIDATION: On 14 February 2006, villagers Reynaldo Manalo (32) and Raymond Manalo (22) of Barangay Bohol na Mangga, San Ildefonso, Bulacan were reported to have been illegally arrested by elements of the 24th Infantry Battalion headed by Master Sergeant Rollie Castillo and subsequently disappeared in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Several of their relatives, namely Jesus Manalo, his wife Ester, Reynaldo's wife Maria Leonora, and the victims' cousin Celeste and seven children were also reportedly threatened. Reynaldo and Raymond's whereabouts are unknown. Again, there is no known investigation of the troops' alleged role.

8. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE: On 6 March 2006, labour leader Rogelio Concepcion (36) was forcibly abducted and disappeared by armed men in Barangay Mataas na Parang, San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Witnesses allege that military men were in the area at the time of the abduction, and that Concepcion was a target due to his criticism of a military deployment inside the factory where he worked as an organiser.

9. FORCED DISAPPEARANCE: On 3 April 2006, 24-year-old activist Ronald Intal of Barangay Asturias, Tarlac City, was forcibly abducted and subsequently disappeared, allegedly by armed men who were seen taking him towards a military detachment in Barangay Asturias, Tarlac City, where elements of the 70th Infantry Battalion are stationed. He has not been seen since. Those allegedly involved are not known to have been investigated.

As you will agree, these are serious allegations of grave abuses committed by troops under the command of Major General Palparan. In fact, they are but some among many such allegations. Yet in effect you have reportedly cleared him of wrongdoing even without having investigated these incidents or having called him to respond to the substantial allegations of rights violations committed by his subordinates.

Regardless of whether or not Major General Palparan was directly involved in any of the alleged abuses, which remain unclear, he is ultimately answerable for the actions of his men. As you will understand very well, the principle of command responsibility is central to the maintenance of discipline in any security force. Where an officer is shown to be beyond the law by virtue of his rank, and not liable for the wrongdoing of those under his orders, it sends a message that it is impunity rather than law that rules the day. It sends a message to the victims and their families that there is no point in seeking justice. It sends a message to the perpetrators of killings, torture and abductions that they are free to continue without fear of retribution. It is therefore essential that senior officers are held to account.

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly insists that unless these and other similar allegations are adequately and effectively investigated, there can be no justification to exonerate either Major General Palparan or any of his accused subordinates. We urge you to retract your publicly reported statement freeing the major general of responsibility, and instruct your subordinates to continue with their inquiries as their top priority. They must exhaust all means possible to ensure that conclusive and strong cases are brought before the courts and the perpetrators of these serious crimes fully prosecuted.

In this, we wish to remind you of the commitment given by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address on 24 July 2006: "In the harshest possible terms I condemn political killings. We together stopped judicial executions with the abolition of the death penalty. We urge witnesses to come forward. Together we will stop extrajudicial executions."

Extrajudicial executions and related gross abuses of human rights will only stop, and witnesses come forward, when you as the chief of police recognise that the perpetrators of killings are members of the armed forces, police, paramilitaries and persons working for them, and make as a top priority the pursuit, investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators. We urge you to do this without delay, and respond to the commitment of your president in real and unequivocal terms that will send a message to the victims and perpetrators alike that these killings and abductions will not be tolerated. 

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong


Posted on 2006-07-27

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