Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror February 7, 2007 edition, p. A6
Poor Justice Melo. Mrs. Arroyo once advertised his Commission as “an investigation group imbued with wide power and a sweeping mandate” and the sole voice on the issues of extra-judicial killings. That was a long time ago.
Back then Mrs. Arroyo needed to do something to make the world believe she was serious about putting a stop to extra-judicial killings. Ignacio Bunye felt confident she “will be able to convince the European Union leaders that the Philippine government has nothing to do with the spate of killings,” and everybody believed Justice Melo was Mrs. Arroyo’s lap dummy.
Last week, after five months of an investigation characterized by lack 0f cooperation from both victims and victimizers, Melo issued a report based largely on the findings of Task Force Usig, the investigative body whose lack of credibility was the reason Mrs. Arroyo created the Melo panel in the first place.
He surprised Mrs. Arroyo and everyone who expected him to whitewash the military’s role in political murders.
“I need to absorb fully what it means …there is much to ponder and much to be done, ” Mrs. Arroyo said.
And so the first thing she got done was to embargo the report. “It’s very difficult to let it get out because there could be perceptions that can be developed from this initial report,” explained her executive secretary Eduardo Ermita.
The next thing she got done was to direct Justice Melo to keep reworking his report until he produced one she liked.
Mrs. Arroyo was not happy Melo reported that the “majority of the killings pointed to these military elements.” She didn’t appreciate what he said, of the soldier she praised in her State of the Nation speech, “There are several pages there on Palparan. You know, he has said he inspired them. You can hook the fish through the mouth.”
She was really concerned Melo brought up the issue of command responsibility. Fortunately, Miriam Santiago was around to confuse everybody.
Miriam claimed the doctrine of command responsibility “cannot apply” to a domestic situation of armed conflict “because it would come in conflict with the rules on criminal procedure.”
She added, “they will have to prove first that there was conspiracy between Palparan and whoever the individual soldier was or group of soldiers that apparently carried out those atrocities before you can even include him in the charge. It is very easy to say that ‘well, let’s just identify who was in ultimate command at the time and then let’s make him assume criminal responsibility.’ But that’s not going to be a fair conclusion. ”
Eichmann, Milosevic, and Saddam would still be alive if their judges bought the argument that command responsibility did not apply in a “domestic situation of armed conflict.”
The military borrowed Miriam’s shovel. Jovito Palparan said, “Perhaps the Melo Commission should define what command responsibility is.” AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon said command responsibility does not apply because “criminal acts only involve the individual.” AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said, “There could be individuals belonging to the organization who perpetrate such acts, but these are not work-related.”
Why does Mrs. Arroyo even bother to prove she has nothing to do with extra-judicial killings? It’s nobody’s fault anyway. Mrs. Arroyo said so herself.
She said, “We have a sad history of political violence” so extra-judicial killings can be blamed on our violent political culture and history. Talking to Garci can be charged to our cheating electoral culture, history and the 1987 Constitution.
Nobody believes in taking responsibility for one’s actions anymore. Nobody wants to be held accountable for anything. And that’s why Justice Melo is treated like a pain in the behind by the real pain in the nation’s behind. Poor Justice Melo.