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Amnesty Report Hits Abuses by Filipino Military, Communists

Armed forces dispute rights group charges

A DISTURBING number of unarmed civilians have been killed by government soldiers or communist insurgents in the Philippines since President Corazon Aquino came to power in 1986.

While both Amnesty International and the armed forces of the Philippines supported this statement at separate press conferences held across town from each other last week, the two groups seem to disagree on just about everything else.

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Human rights abuses by government and government-backed forces have resulted in the death of at least 550 individuals since 1988, according to "The Killing Goes On," a report released by Amnesty on Feb. 26.

"That's a lie," said Brig. Gen. Emiliano Templo, deputy chief of staff for civil military operations of the armed forces, as he ordered his staff to print out an internal human rights accomplishment report.

Since 1988, the death of 232 civilians by the military through killings, murders, and massacres had been reported and were under investigation, according to the report.

"We have detailed statistics. Amnesty International never, never asked [for our statistics]. That's why we question their sincerity," General Templo says.

"I detect malice in the timing [of the Amnesty report] and question their real, underlying motives ... turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Communist Party of the Philippines," said Gen. Lisandro Abadia, chief of staff of the armed forces at a hastily called press conference.

General Abadia admitted he had not seen the report and was unaware that one chapter was devoted to human rights abuses allegedly committed by communist insurgents.

Amnesty spokesperson Victoria Forbes Adam said the organization had sent advance copies of the report to Philippine government officials, including the armed forces.

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President Aquino acknowledged the report on Friday and said she would act on the recommendations of her own human rights commission.

At the press conference called by Amnesty, the group made a public appeal to communist insurgents to stop arbitrary and deliberate killing of civilians and ill-treatment or torture of captives.

Both the armed forces and Amnesty mentioned a brutal encounter on Feb. 15 during which 41 Philippine soldiers were killed, some of whom were beheaded by the communist insurgents, according to eyewitnesses.

Amnesty's documentation of alleged human rights abuses by armed opposition groups is a new policy, Ms. Adam says. While Amnesty's 1988 report on the Philippines' human rights record had passing references to such abuses, the 1992 report covers them in more detail. The report, however, gives far more attention to alleged military abuses.

Close to 5,000 civilians have been killed by the New People's Army, the military branch of the Communist Party, from 1988 to the present, according to reports provided to the Monitor by an armed forces intelligence officer.

The government's human rights record has improved since Aquino came to power in 1986, according to Col. Ernesto Carolina, an armed forces spokesperson. Systematic investigation of reported abuses has been institutionalized, Colonel Carolina says, and reports of incidents have decreased since 1987.

Amnesty's Adam disagrees. "In practical terms, there has been no substantial change in the pattern of human rights abuses in the Philippines since 1986," she says.

Amnesty International gathers its information through fact-finding missions, by monitoring the press, and through affiliations with church and community organizations, trade unions, nongovernment organizations, and members of the legal profession.

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