SEEKING a stop to extrajudicial killings, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Monday asked Congress to enact laws that would impose the “harshest penalties” on those behind politically motivated killings, including “rogue elements” of the military.
“We must wipe this stain from our democratic record,” Arroyo said in her, adding that she wanted to “stop human rights abuses whatever the excuse.”
“It is never right and always wrong to fight terror with terror,” the President said.
Arroyo called on Congress “to transform state response to political violence” by passing laws to protect witnesses from lawbreakers and law enforcers, and laws to guarantee swift justice through special courts.
“Third, laws to impose harsher penalties for political killings. Fourth, laws reserving the harshest penalties for the rogue elements in the uniformed services who betray the public trust and bring shame to the greater number of their colleagues who are patriotic,” Arroyo said.
She also enjoined Congress to prescribe heavier penalties for election killings.
“We can disagree on political goals but never on the conduct of democratic elections. I ask Congress to fund poll watchdogs. And to enact a stronger law against election-related violence,” she said.
Arroyo said the country would fight terrorism since it threatened the country’s sovereign, democratic, compassionate and decent way of life.
“We pay tribute to the fearless 14 who were savagely massacred at Tipo-Tipo trying to pursue a peaceful and progressive Philippines,” Arroyo said, referring to the July 10 ambush of Marines in Basilan.
“We will not disappoint their hopes. We will not waste their sacrifice. We will not be swayed from the course we have set in this conflict for peace with justice throughout our land,” she said.
Arroyo said the Philippines had built a world model for reconciliation built on interfaith dialogue, complemented with expanded public works and more responsive social services.
“These investments show both sides in the Mindanao conflict that they have more at stake in common; and a greater reason to be together than hang apart, including being together isolating the terrorists,” she said.
Arroyo said the new anti-terror law must be used against terrorists who threaten vital infrastructure in Mindanao.
“Mindanao’s energy challenge lies not in generating power but in power lines. Terrorists target transmission towers. We must resolutely apply the Human Security Act,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo spoke amid mounting international criticism of extrajudicial killings of leftist dissidents, many of them linked by the military to a long-running communist insurgency.
Local human rights groups say more than 800 leftist activists have been murdered since Arroyo took office in 2001 (the Philippine Daily Inquirer count is 299). The military says the number is exaggerated as some of the dead were communist guerrillas killed in armed clashes.
A UN envoy and an independent government commission have both identified military elements in many of the killings.
Executive action needed
Reacting to the President’s address, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino told the Inquirer. “The biggest thing needed is executive action.”
Rep. Satur Ocampo, also from the militant Bayan Muna, noted that Arroyo’s SONA “ignored” the recommendation that she come out with a categorical order to stop members of the police and military purportedly behind the extrajudicial killings.
Sen. Manuel Roxas II said he was disappointed with the President’s statement, saying “I would have wanted to see a much more clear directive.”
He said that he wanted a “directive from her to the military and police that as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive she would not stand for more of these extrajudicial killings.”
With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, AFP