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UN, Philippine Investigations Blame Military for Political Killings

Two investigations into the rising political violence in the Philippines link elements of the Philippine military to the deaths of hundreds of activists and journalists in the past six years. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong, political analysts and activists say the findings will test Philippine President Gloria Arroyo's ability to discipline the military.

The government Thursday was forced to release the contents of a report submitted last month by a presidential commission investigating growing numbers of political murders. The report said the military "tolerated and even encouraged" the killings.

The government had refused to publicize the findings. But United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, who wrapped up a 10-day investigation in the Philippines Wednesday, insisted the government should do so.

Alston also slammed the Philippine military for not admitting its role in the deaths of hundreds of activists and journalists in the past six years.

"It is in denial of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings which, in my view, have been convincingly attributed to them," he said.

Neither the presidential commission nor the U.N. investigation found evidence that the killings were officially sanctioned.

But the U.N. envoy condemned the "virtual impunity" that prevails in the Philippines. He called for a re-evaluation of the government's counterinsurgency strategy and stressed the need to provide political space for leftist groups.

Human rights groups have long accused the military of being complicit in the violence. They say it is part of a wider military campaign against the communist New People's Army and left-wing activists. The military blames the murders on a purge within the communist movement. Few of these cases have been solved, even as President Gloria Arroyo repeatedly promised justice.

In response to Alston's comments, Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement Thursday that her government is not in denial and is serious about solving the cases. Her Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon also rejected the U.N. envoy's findings.

Cabinet executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita, a former general, said Alston appeared to have given more credence to the words of people opposed to the government position.

Political analysts and activists say the findings will test how far Mrs. Arroyo will go to discipline the military - a powerful political force in the Philippines that has been instrumental in installing and ousting four presidents.

The findings come on the anniversary of a failed plot by some members of the military to oust Mrs. Arroyo. On Thursday, she praised the "99 percent" of the armed forces that, she says, "safeguards the nation".

Alston is expected to submit his final report to the United Nations in May.