Three international human rights organizations have issued reports criticizing President Corazon Aquino's government and the Philippine armed forces for widespread human rights abuses, including murder, torture and illegal arrest.
Philippine officials say reports of such abuses have declined over the last two years. But they acknowledge that despite hundreds of cases, no member of the military or militia has been convicted of a human rights offense since Aquino took office in February, 1986.
In a report released today, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a New York-based group, alleges "numerous instances of serious human rights violations" by Philippine militia forces against civilians, members of the clergy and Communist rebels.
The militias are locally called CAFGUs, for Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units. Organized in 1987 to expand the government's military presence in rural areas, the 52,000 barely trained and poorly paid CAFGUs often work closely with vigilante groups and "private armies" supported by rich landowners and businessmen.
The lawyers' 147-page report, called "Out of Control: Militia Abuses in the Philippines," is based on a monthlong visit to the Philippines by committee representatives last fall. A similar report, also based on a visit by investigators in 1989, was issued last month by Asia Watch, another New York-based group that monitors human rights.
Both groups also described and criticized violations of international law by the New People's Army, the armed wing of the illegal Philippine Communist Party. They accuse the NPA of at least 80 urban assassinations of police and paramilitary officers last year, of massacres of scores of suspected informers, of kidnapings and of using torture to collect "taxes" to support the NPA.
"The NPA's so-called 'revolutionary justice,' which often results in the execution of those found guilty, fails to meet international minimum standards for a fair trial," the lawyers' group reported.
The reports are the first of their kind to criticize both the NPA and the government. Critics here have long accused human rights groups of ignoring rebel atrocities and abuses.
Asia Watch praised Aquino's initial attempts to eliminate the abuses of her predecessor, the late Ferdinand E. Marcos. She freed all political prisoners, restored the right of habeas corpus and freedom of the press, prohibited indefinite detention without trial, created a human rights commission and opened peace talks with the NPA.
But after a cease-fire accord with the rebels collapsed in 1987, Aquino sanctioned the "privatization of the counterinsurgency effort," Asia Watch charged, including civilian vigilantes "who take justice into their own hands and target suspected leftists for execution."
A separate 15-page report by Amnesty International last March also found "serious violations" of international law, including unlawful arrests, torture, beheadings and "disappearances."
"More than 200 real or suspected critics or opponents of government policies, including human rights activists, church workers, trade unionists and peasants, were killed in apparently extrajudicial executions by government or government-backed forces, and dozens reportedly 'disappeared,' " London-based Amnesty International reported.
Amnesty International reported that 29 "prisoners of conscience" were in custody, held for the nonviolent expression of their beliefs, and that more than 600 people were held as "political prisoners," most of them accused of supporting insurgent groups.
The American Embassy has not yet completed its human rights report to Congress for this year. Last year's report noted that political killings "still occur frequently throughout the country," although there were fewer than the year before.
Horacio Paredes, an Aquino spokesman, said Saturday that the government does not deny human rights abuses and violations of international law.
"What we say is these are not official government-sanctioned acts," he said. "They are private, criminal acts of individual soldiers. And we try as much as possible to investigate and bring them to justice."
Paredes complained that the "enemies of the state," including the NPA, right-wing military rebels and militant Muslims, "are on a campaign of terror against the Philippine people. We find it very difficult to get the world to look at these abuses. . . ."
An international human rights worker here, who asked not to be named, cautioned that many reports of abuse are based on second- and thirdhand accounts and remain unverified because of remoteness of sites and public fears of reprisal.
Moreover, he said, many reported abuses may not be politically motivated, but the result of personal vendettas, smuggling or other criminal activities.
"I don't doubt there's a serious problem," he said. "But many of these reports are exaggerated."