Rei-Mon Guran, known by his parents as Ambo, but by his friends more colorfully as Rambo, celebrated his 21st birthday with friends and family in his hometown of Bulan, in Sorsogon province, on July 30, 2006. Early the next morning Guran began to return to nearby Legazpi City, where he was completing his second year as a political science student at Aquinas University. Gurans mother and father accompanied him to the bus stop to help him load his belongings, and to wave him farewell. As Guran sat in his seat, waiting for the bus to begin its journey, a man in plainclothes walked up the center aisle of the bus and paused in front of Guran. The man pulled out a .45 caliber pistol and shot Guran four times at point-blank range, then fled.
Rei-Mon Guran was a leader on his campus and in his community. He was an elected member of his student council, the spokesperson and provincial coordinator for the left-wing League of Filipino Students at Aquinas University, and an active member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Christian Youth Fellowship.
Although the assailant was unidentified, Gurans political activities raise concerns that he was the target of Philippine security forces who deemed him to be linked to the long-running communist New Peoples Army (NPA) insurgency. An off-duty policeman was sitting on the bus when Guran was shot, but did not pursue the assailant. Other passengers were there, but not a single witness outside of the family will give evidence to the police. The witnesses say they are too scared, and fear reprisals from the assailants or their backers if they come forward. The police say that they cannot complete their investigation for lack of evidence and have asked Gurans family to plead with witnesses to speak with them. However, Gurans family have no meansnor the responsibilityto offer anyone protection from harassment or persecution that witnesses fear they may face in retaliation for giving evidence.
Rei-Mon Guran is just one case among hundreds of extrajudicial executions and failed prosecutions in the Philippines in recent years. This report, based on over 100 interviews and research that Human Rights Watch carried out in the Philippines between September and November 2006, documents the involvement of the armed forces in the killings of individuals because of their political activities. Witnesses and family members describe how members of left-wing political parties and non-governmental organizations, political journalists, outspoken clergy, anti-mining activists, and agricultural reform activists are being gunned down or disappeared, with their murders going unprosecuted.
The pattern of these unlawful killings suggests they are intended to eliminate suspected supporters of the NPA and its political wing, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and to intimidate those who work for progressive causes certain critics in the government and armed forces consider linked to the insurgency. Human rights groups, local church leaders, and politicians have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact on civilians of a government policy of all-out war declared against the NPA in June 2006. Most of the victims of these political killings are members of legal political parties or organizations that the military claims are allied with the communist movement.
None of the incidents investigated by Human Rights Watch involved anyone who was participating in an armed encounter with the military or was otherwise involved in NPA military operations. Each victim appears to have been individually targeted for killing.
An investigating commission established by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in August 2006 under the guidance of former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, completed its report in January 2007, finally giving voice to what has become an open secret in the Philippines. The report determined that the killings of activists and media personnel is pursuant to an orchestrated plan by a group or sector with an interest in eliminating the victims, invariably activists and media personnel. Moreover, the Melo Commission concluded that there is certainly evidence pointing the finger of suspicion at some elements and personalities in the armed forces, in particular General Palparan, as responsible for an undetermined number of killings, by allowing, tolerating, and even encouraging the killings. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch was unable to uncover a single case of apparent extrajudicial killing in recent years for which a member of the armed forces was successfully prosecuted.
President Arroyo announced a wealth of new measures in the wake of the Melo Commissions conclusions and recommendations, but the presidents initial efforts to keep the Commission report secret raises serious concerns about the political will to enforce these measures. In the end, it is actions that will speak louder than words, and the only real indication of the governments commitment to end these killings will be when the perpetrators are finally held to account in a court of law.
The Melo Commission report lamented that not a single witness came forward to provide eyewitness testimony of military participation in any extrajudicial killing. Human Rights Watch, however, was able to interview eyewitnesses to killings that identify the perpetrators as members of the military. In addition, Human Rights Watchs investigations uncovered other sources of information that support the allegations of the involvement of military personnel in many of the killings.
Yet the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have to date wholly failed to hold any of its members accountable for these unlawful killings, including superior officers who ordered, encouraged, or permitted them. Nor has the militarys high commandincluding Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.shown any willingness to investigate senior officers for command responsibility, the doctrine by which a superior is held responsible when he or she knew or should have known about serious abuses but failed to take steps to prevent or punish the offenses.
Local police told Human Rights Watch that in some cases where they suspect military involvement in unlawful killings, they are unable to receive cooperation from military authorities in their investigations. In other cases, the police have clearly shied away from pursuing credible leads when they indicated the involvement of military personnel.
Indeed, an inquiry by the Philippines National Police (PNF), called Task Force Usig, begun in November 2006, laid the blame for most of the unlawful killings with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New Peoples Army, despite clear evidence of military involvement. The government should independently investigate whether the police and army have obstructed justice by blocking efforts to uncover abuse by the security forces.
In the areas where killings have occurred, there is distrust in the investigative efforts of the police. Victims families and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they receive scant details about police investigations, while in some instances, police provide misleading information to victims families. Victims families told Human Rights Watch that the only outcome they expect from police and military investigations is impunity for the perpetrators of the killings. In many of the cases that the police consider solved, Human Rights Watch has found that police merely filed cases in court against suspects whose identities and whereabouts are unknown, often just known NPA members. This generates widespread fear, particularly in affected rural communities, of further military abuses, and witnesses and families are afraid to cooperate with police for fear of becoming targets of reprisal.
The government and the military need to put action behind their public endorsement of protecting human rights and their denial of involvement in killings. Victims families are unlikely to believe the governments words until credible prosecutions have been a success. President Arroyo should therefore: