Philippine probe says general, superiors may be held liable for extrajudicial killings

A retired army general and his superiors may be held responsible for a spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, a fact-finding commission's report said Thursday, but the military dismissed it as unfair.

The government released the report a day after U.N. investigator Philip Alston slammed the military for being in "a state of denial" about the "significant number of killings" of left-wing activists by soldiers.

The local human rights group Karapatan has accused security forces of carrying out most of the 832 killings it says occurred since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took power, including the deaths of 356 left-wing activists.

"There is certainly evidence pointing the finger of suspicion at some elements of the armed forces, in particular (Maj.) Gen. (Jovito) Palparan, as responsible for an undetermined number of killings, by allowing, tolerating, and even encouraging the killings," the commission's report said.

Before his retirement last year after 33 years in service, the tough-talking Palparan was the army commander in several areas where communist insurgents operate.

Left-wing activists have described him as a "butcher" and accused him of ordering the killings. Palparan has denied any wrongdoing.

"General Palparan and perhaps some of his superior officers may be held responsible for failing to prevent, punish or condemn the killings under the principle of command responsibility," the report said.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon admitted receiving reports linking Palparan to the killings, but dismissed them as communist propaganda. He admitted no formal investigation of Palparan was conducted by the military because no complaint was filed, the report noted.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Esperon criticized the commission and Alston for ignoring evidence of alleged rebel assassinations and internal purges.

"I believe that Mr. Alston might be in a state of denial himself. He probably refuses to believe that the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army could perpetrate such killings," Esperon said.

The commission urged Arroyo to ensure all complaints of extrajudicial killings are investigated by an agency independent of the military.

"The government is not in denial. These killings will be resolved and the armed forces shall continue to be a vanguard for freedom," Arroyo said in a statement Thursday.

Esperon promised the military would cooperate in any future investigations.

The commission created by Arroyo and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo said it found no official military or civilian policy that supported extrajudicial killings.

The commission condemned elements within the military for acting outside of the law.

"Such an abuse of power strikes at the very heart of freedom and democracy," it said. "The military should not be allowed to descend to the level of the insurgents and rebels themselves with their lawless, treacherous methodologies."

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