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US Senate Panel Focuses on Murders of Activists in Philippines


A senior U.S. State Department official says Philippines President Gloria Arroyo could do more to deal with security forces who have been implicated in the killings of political and human rights activists. The official testified before a Senate panel along with human rights advocates, who described a bleak human rights situation in the country under President Arroyo. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, the secretary-general of the Philippine human rights group Karapatan, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, says violations have gotten worse in the country under President Gloria Arroyo's leadership. "From 2001 up to the present, our group has documented 836 victims of extrajudicial killings, (and) 196 victims of forced disappearances," she said.

T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International USA, offered similar findings. "Amnesty International has documented that hundreds have been killed, politically assassinated, by suspected vigilante groups who may have been linked to the armed forces of the Philippines," he said.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs, Eric John, said Philippine President Arroyo has taken steps to address the problem, including establishing a police task force and a commission to investigate the killings.

But he said President Arroyo could do more to control security forces under her command. "The chain of command for the security forces leads to the president of the Republic of the Philippines. That does not mean they are operating under orders. But as the ultimate authority in the chain of command, she has to take the steps to stop any involvement by members of security forces," he said.

The Philippines is a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism. The United States provides the Philippine military with training and intelligence support.

The Senate panel's chairman, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, asked the State Department official whether the United States should link its military aid to improvement in the country's human rights record. He responded that such conditions would be counterproductive to U.S. efforts to influence change in the Philippines.

The Philippine government has denied that its military was involved in the killings of activists.

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