08/04/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Manila under fire: journalists' murder met by silence and impunity

Since Arroyo took power in 2001, at least 705 "political" murders (victims include more than 30 journalists) have been committed. But the government says these are just murders and in many cases, they are not even investigated. The state of affairs has invited international condemnation from human rights activists and media professionals.

Manila (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has given investigating bodies a 10-week deadline to shed light on a wave of murders that has claimed the lives of more than 700 political activists and journalists since 2001. Her decision came a day after gunmen killed two leftist activists and a photojournalist on 31 July. "I give prosecutors and police ten weeks at most to arrest the suspects involved in the deaths of at least 10 journalists and leftist activists," said Arroyo on 1 August. But the president's intentions do not convince human rights activists and relatives of the victims.

Since Arroyo took power in January 2002, there have been 705 "political" killings, according to the Batasan 6. This is a group of five progressive congressmen and one congresswoman who have been charged with rebellion: they passed a document listing their allegations onto journalists and activists from Hong Kong, who are on a fact-finding mission into links between Arroyo's government and the spiral of human rights abuses in the Philippines. Some mission delegates also met General Avelino Razon Jnr (deputy commander of the administration and since 13 May, head of the USIG, a special body investigating political homicides). Under fire from mission representatives during the meeting, General Razon denied there were any extra-judicial killings in his country - just pure murders. Asked about the murder of Predencio Melendrez, the photojournalist killed on 31 July in Manila, General Razon replied that this was about revenge "linked to drugs".

Michael Anthony, member of an Asian human rights organization, pointed out to General Razon that many of the homicides "have apparently not been investigated at all." Meanwhile the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned the government "for the lack of interest [in investigating the killings], for closing its eyes, for not going after the masterminds. We are also blaming it because of the culture of impunity."

In the dialogue with General Razon, Purificacion Quisumbing, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights chairwoman, said: "No one is arrested or brought to justice." The situation of victims' relatives who cooperate with the delegation is also fraught with difficulties: some have been threatened and have even left their homes for fear of reprisals.

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