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Arroyo Vows to End Political Violence, But Critics Are Skeptical

  • Douglas Bakshian

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has pledged to end political violence that has claimed more than 800 lives since she took office in 2001. She spoke after a commission she created to probe the bloodshed reported that members of the military were behind most of the killings. Critics say Mrs. Arroyo has pledged to bring political violence to an end before, and nothing has happened. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

In a speech to the diplomatic corps Wednesday, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo said the country's pattern of never-ending violence must cease.

She vowed to use all government resources to halt the spate of politically motivated killings.

"The government shall consolidate its agencies and resources for this effort, invite international cooperation, protect witnesses, field special prosecutors, and ask for the installation of special courts to move forward," she said.

The president spoke after the receiving a report that says soldiers have been behind most of the murders.

The report has not yet been made public. But retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, head of the commission that issued the report, was quoted by news organizations as saying the panel was not accusing the whole military establishment, only certain elements.

The Philippine Human rights group Karpatan says more than 800 political, labor and human rights activists, along with journalists and others, have been killed since President Arroyo came to power in 2001.

Karpatan dismissed the Melo Commission findings, saying the panel turned a blind eye to the reality that the killings are what Karpatan calls a matter of state policy. It says the commission is merely a device designed to clear the Arroyo administration.

Many of the victims have been from the Bayan Muna Party. Congressman Teddy Casino, a prominent Bayan Muna member, says that in the past, President Arroyo has not acted on her promises to end the killings.

"All that sounds nice, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So far we have not seen any concrete steps towards that," said Casino.

He says the party filed a bill in Congress last year to create an independent commission to investigate the killings, but the bill has languished because the presidential palace has refused to support it.

"So unless concrete measures are taken … it's all talk," he said.

The administration has denied involvement in the killings, and the military and government have previously blamed political infighting among communist rebels for many of the deaths. President Arroyo formed the Melo Commission last August after rights groups, including Amnesty International, said the killings could be linked to members of the security forces.