Senators agree to give Melo Commission a chance

- Marvin Sy () - August 23, 2006 - 12:00am
Senators are willing to set aside their differences with President Arroyo and give her newly created Melo Commission a chance to prove its credibility.

The senators’ stand came on the heels of the President’s appeal for her detractors to give the five-man commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo a chance to perform its task as an independent body investigating the rash of extra-judicial killings under her administration.

The appeal came even as another left-wing activist was murdered in Surigao del Sur on Sunday by unidentified men believed to be soldiers.

And even before it could buckle down to work, the commission had to deal with the decision of Batanes Bishop Camilio Gregorio to decline his nomination, citing "more urgent pastoral obligations and in deference to the autonomy of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) of which I am a member."

Opposition Sen. Joker Arroyo said yesterday the creation of the commission was a "fair" initial response by the President to the spate of political killings and to accusations that she was not doing enough to address the issue.

"We cannot criticize every move of the President. For all you know it may succeed. We cannot be fault-finding and nit-picking all the time," Arroyo said.

He said that the commission is needed to find out the cause of the killings and catch the perpetrators.

"How can you pinpoint responsibility without authorizing someone to investigate? As a starter it’s fair enough," Arroyo said.

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan admitted having doubts about the credibility of the commission but stressed that he was willing to see how it would perform.

"I will hold judgment until I see the quality of performance. They should be put to task and we’ll see how they will perform," Pangilinan said.

"They should be condemned or praised on the basis of how they perform. So let’s wait for that," he added.

Pangilinan, a member of the Judicial and Bar Council representing the Senate, could not say much about the appointment of Melo except that he was "non-controversial."

"I will wait for the performance then I will say whether he is the right person or not (to head the commission)," he said.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said that Melo would do a good job as the head of the commission because of his extensive experience in public service, especially as a lawyer.

"He’s aware of the political and social setting of the problem. He has had intimate knowledge of the social and political condition of the country, the ongoing ideological struggle in the land, the long and unsettled revolution. He would be able to handle the job," Enrile said. He said that it would be unfair to judge the commission at this point.

Another opposition senator, Franklin Drilon, said that while he found nothing wrong with the appointment of Melo, the problem of credibility would hound the commission.

He recalled that the 1984 Fernando Commission, which was formed by former President Ferdinand Marcos to investigate the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., failed because of its lack of credibility.

The late Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin had even been offered a seat in the commission but he declined because of doubts over the military’s version of events that led to the Aquino assassination.

"If there’s no confidence in the panel then you don’t expect cooperation. And especially with the President praising Palparan," Drilon said, referring to the State of the Nation Address of the President in which she commended Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan for his campaign against the communist insurgents and their supporters. Palparan has been widely blamed for most of the political killings under the Arroyo administration.

Drilon said the presence of National Bureau of Investigation Director Nestor Mantaring and Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño in the commission might have even heightened the body’s credibility problem. The two are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice headed by Secretary Raul Gonzalez.

At Malacañang, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye called on critics of the President to give the commission a chance to prove its worth. "We respect the independence of the commission and we do not want to preempt its plans or actions, as it is now organizing itself and mapping out its priorities," he said.

 "Our detractors should adopt a fair attitude and refrain from labeling a body that has not even started its work," he added.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, for his part, said the creation of the commission showed that the government is fully aware of the problem and "is doing something about it." 

But Carl Ala, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas spokesman, said the farmers’ group doubts the credibility of the Melo commission. KMP’s statement came in the wake of the murder of a farmer-activist in Surigao del Sur. "We don’t expect the commission to achieve anything but a whitewash," Ala said. "Its leading members are (the president’s) men and it would only be used to wash the blood off the government’s hands."

KMP said soldiers were likely responsible for the fatal shooting of Hermelino Marqueza in his house in Surigao del Sur on Sunday. Marqueza was a leader of a local chapter of KMP.

In Angeles City, militants belonging to the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) dared the commission members to move for the relief of Palparan to prove their independence. Palparan is the commander of the 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon.

Bayan regional chairman Roman Polintan said President Arroyo created the commission in response to "strong pressures from both the national and international communities and the fact that she could no longer cover up the escalating political killings under her administration."

He said the relief of Palparan is necessary to "prevent the controversial general from using his position for inflicting more harm on the people and also to relieve them of the horrors of killings and political repression in the hands of the military."

The general, the Bayan official said, "has become increasingly violent and dangerous as his retirement on Sept. 11 draws near."

Meanwhile, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) commissioner-in-charge Quintin Queto said the newly formed commission may not be as independent as claimed by the Palace and that its function may just be a duplication of CHR’s duties.

"It is the prerogative of the President to create the commission, but it is only duplicating our duties," Queto told The STAR. He said that unlike the Melo commission, CHR is an "independent constitutional body" and not under the Office of the President. — With Paolo Romero, Edu Punay, Ding Cervantes, AP

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