The use of violence by the Philippine government and the Communist rebels waging a guerrilla war in the countryside has increased significantly during the past year, according to a report by a group of American lawyers, who also found a "dramatic deterioration" in human rights in the country since 1983.
Political violence is an everyday occurrence in every region of the country and affects people from every segment of the society, according to the report by the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
The 200-page report, released this week, is based on three visits to the Philippines by representatives of the committee in the past year. The representatives met with more than 100 victims of human rights violations, religious leaders, business people, journalists, lawyers and senior government officials.
The report's overall conclusions are in agreement with the State Department's monitoring of human rights, according to U.S. officials. "The trends are that the situation is deteriorating and the increase in abuses is part of an overall increase in fighting," one State Department official said.
The report details the growing pattern of violence, the growing number of political prisoners and "the government's unwillingness to respond," said Michael Posner, the committee's executive director and one of the authors of the report.
While a reform movement has taken root within the military this year and several official bodies have been established to investigate abuses, the report found that their efforts have had "little visible impact, and citizens' efforts to seek redress for military abuses typically are met by official inactions, and at times are thwarted by deliberate efforts to forestall an investigation."
A spokesman for the Philippine Embassy said: "We take exception to the overall impression created by the report and some accounts in the press that salvagings the local term for political killings and other forms of human rights violations are condoned by the Philippine government. This impression is false." The spokesman said the report has been forwarded to military officials in Manila with the recommendation to look into alleged violations.
One prime example of the erosion of justice under President Ferdinand Marcos, the report found, was the recently concluded trial of Gen. Fabian C. Ver and 25 other defendants acquitted in connection with the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino.
The report said that "while government-sanctioned violence is widespread, prime targets of official retaliation appear to be journalists, church workers, civil rights lawyers and others who are attempting to defend basic human rights or simply to monitor their violation."
While the level of violence continues to be greatest on the southern island of Mindanao, a stronghold of the insurgency, "the armed forces are now carrying out political killings of noncombatants throughout the Philippines," the report said.
The report singled out the Civilian Home Defense Force, a militia of more than 7,000 men that it described as "inadequately trained and undisciplined," as the most abusive element.
In September, in the town of Escalante on the island of Negros, Civilian Home Defense Force members fired into a crowd of jobless sugar workers, killing at least 27 persons.
In Manila yesterday, a civilian-military panel recommended that a military captain, about 20 militiamen and soldiers and a mayor stand trial in connection with the deaths of at least 21 demonstrators, United Press International reported.
Although Posner said information about abuses by the Communist rebels was much harder to obtain, the committee found that human rights violations by the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, are becoming "more frequent and more serious." As their numbers have grown, the insurgents have resorted increasingly to violence against civilians, particularly in rural areas, the report found.