Hong Kong-based human rights groups who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the Philippines found that the frequency of extrajudicial killings in the country has gone down. Disappearances, however, have gone up, as Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

International condemnation of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines appears to have had an effect. Hong Kong-based human rights groups, which recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the Philippines, say the frequency of the killings has gone down in recent months while the number of disappearances has gone up.

Michael Anthony is with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.

"The government is obviously under a lot of pressure and may be trying to have some impact on the behavior of the military, who are conducting a counter-insurgency battle against armed leftist groups throughout the country," he said.

Anthony says that the Philippine military, in their fight against armed leftist groups such as the New People's Army, often kill people who are simply unarmed sympathizers to these groups' causes.

He says while there may be fewer killings, the rising number of disappearances is disturbing.

"These are killings by other means. It just means you don't find the body generally," he said.

Anthony says most cases - whether disappearances or killings - are not properly investigated.

"Real investigation of the crime scene, of witnesses, family members of victims, is not being done in a way that is acceptable," he said.

Anthony says the judicial system in the Philippines relies heavily on witnesses. Many are too scared to come forward, however, and there are no mechanisms to protect them.

Human rights groups say more than 800 political, labor and human rights activists have been killed in the Philippines since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001.

Investigations by a government-appointed commission as well as an envoy of the United Nations earlier this year linked a significant number of the killings to the Philippines' armed forces.

President Arroyo has vowed on several occasions to tackle the problem, but the human rights groups say there has been no successful punishment of those responsible.