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PIA Press Release

Commentary: Vital witnesses to stop extrajudicial killings

By Henry S.Lagasca

SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union (19 April) -- The rash of killings of leftist activists, journalists and politicians in the country has gained international attention.

Various human rights groups claimed as many as 843 extrajudicial killings have occurred for the last six years but the Philippine National Police (PNP) has officially recorded only 116 political activists and 26 journalists killed since 2001.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself is a staunch advocate of human rights who created the Melo Commission and the establishment of special courts for the speedy resolution of cases involving the killings of journalists and militants.

Leaving no stone unturned, the President also sought for the creation of Task Force Usig and welcomed the support of international partners in a bid to work "in an open and transparent way" to put an end to human rights violations.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston just concluded his own probe on extrajudicial killings in the country and again, here comes other well- meaning groups like the US Senate foreign relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union taking part in the government's effort to present the true picture of what the Arroyo government was doing to stop the extrajudicial killings.

The President called on the victims' relatives and witnesses to cooperate in the resolution of the cases but most of them, however, seem not to trust the government to act responsibly about the magnitude of the problem.

Obviously, there's clearly a trend in terms of deepening negative attitudes towards our judicial system in how it address the issue concerning violations of human rights. But even though mixed with deep frustrations and criticisms, victims' relatives and witnesses should not withdraw completely.

With PGMA's sincerity to put a stop to these killings, more so vital witnesses should cooperate by collaborating with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. Their participation is very crucial in terms of gathering of evidence against the suspects to ensure a conviction.

The indifference of victims' relatives who can shed light in the investigation is also one of the reasons why violations of human rights continue to prosper.

In our present judicial system, the police consider a case solved after arrests are made and charges are filed. Prosecution and conviction largely depends on evidence presented and testimony of vital witnesses.

President Arroyo's call on witnesses to cooperate is a challenge to every citizen to share the burden of safeguarding human rights and to put a stop extrajudicial killing. (PIA Region 1) [top]

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