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Philippine Government Appoints Commission to Investigate Political Killings

The Philippine President, Gloria Arroyo, has appointed an independent commission to investigate the growing number of politically linked killings. This comes as human rights groups call for urgent steps to stop the violence.

President Gloria Arroyo has come under fire for her government's alleged failure to solve the growing number of cases of killings of leftist activists and journalists.

Amnesty International last week called for "urgent steps" to stop the violence, which it says has killed at least 51 activists and journalists in the first six months of the year, compared to 66 in all of 2005.

The killings appear to have targeted activists opposed to the government and members of groups linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines. The military has been accused of being behind the killings, a charge it denies.

On Monday, President Arroyo announced the formation of an independent commission to investigate the murders, headed by a former Supreme Court justice.

But the leftist activist group, Bayan, whose members had been killed, questions the commission's credibility. Renato Reyes is the group's secretary-general.

" We are raising objections to the presence of representatives of the National Bureau of Investigation as well as the Department of Justice," he explained. "These two agencies have been instrumental in covering up for crimes of the administration. It would be better if there would be substantial representation of church people. It would also be good if the Commission on Human Rights would be involved. "

This is not the first time Mrs. Arroyo has pledged to investigate the killings. Few cases have been resolved, a failure some analysts blame on the weak, often corrupt Philippine justice system.

The military says the murders may be part of a purge within the communist movement. But Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, a former Communist Party official and now professor at the University of Amsterdam, believes the killings are part of a new military strategy that targets communist sympathizers.

"This has to do with a shift to a hard-line stance of the government toward the leftists. I think they've realized that [the] counter insurgency effort over the past several years has not really been working," Quimpo said.

The C.P.P. has been fighting the government for more than 30 years. The United States designated the C.P.P. and its military wing, the New Peoples' Army or N.P.A., as terrorist groups in the war against terrorism.