Friday, July 02, 2010

Philippines urged to allow wiretapping for suspects in extralegal killings

MANILA, Philippines — The head of a European Union team helping the Philippines halt extralegal killings of journalists and activists urged the government Friday to allow wiretapping of suspected guns-for-hire groups believed responsible for many of the murders.

The EU has pledged 3.9 million euros ($5.36 million) for the EU-Philippines Justice Support Program that is providing technical aid and training to bolster the country's criminal justice system. It also aims to help create a national monitoring group for killings and disappearances.

Detlev Mehlis, head of the program, told reporters and government representatives that wiretapping and electronic evidence gathering are needed to fight the country's "killing mafia."

Local human rights group Karapatan says more than 1,000 people have been executed without judicial process since former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office in 2001, most of them activists and farmers. The government has confirmed 156 killings since 2001.

Most of the victims are journalists or left-wing activists accused by the military of collaborating with communist insurgents. Many of the killings are carried out by suspected gunmen for hire who often operate from motorcycles.

Mehlis said it is difficult to understand why people suspected of rebellion, espionage or treason can be wiretapped under Philippine law but not those suspected of extralegal killings. Wiretapping is prohibited except for specific crimes.

"I can tell you from my experience you can only address this with electronic evidence through wiretapping, sophisticated methods, sophisticated crime intelligence," he said.

Mehlis also said judicial procedures need to be simplified, loopholes allowing cases to drag on for years should be plugged, and witness protection must be strengthened.

New President Benigno Aquino III, who took office Wednesday, has vowed to jail perpetrators and seek justice for hundreds of victims of extralegal killings.

Amnesty International, in a letter to Aquino, called for the immediate signing of a U.N. treaty on enforced disappearances, and the creation of a presidential commission to review all reported cases of extralegal killings and disappearances.

A media watchdog, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said more than 100 journalists and media employees were killed in the nine years under Arroyo, sullying the image of the country, which prides itself on having among the freest media in Southeast Asia.

In the world's deadliest single assault on media employees, at least 30 reporters and their staff were among 57 people massacred Nov. 30 in the southern Philippines. The victims were in a convoy of vehicles targeted in political violence before the May national elections. (Associated Press - Canadian Press)


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