MANILA — Cardinal Jaime Sin on Sunday blamed government failures in land reform for the deaths of 15 protesters last week, and it was announced that five members of the nation's human rights committee have resigned in protest over the shootings.
Sin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila, who played a key role in bringing President Corazon Aquino to power last February, called on her to act urgently on land reform during his weekly homily.
Sin said he was not trying to lay personal blame for the killings, which occurred as demonstrators tried to march to the presidential palace to meet with Aquino. But he said that the progress Aquino has made toward national unity was "swiftly and senselessly diminished" by the violence.
"We ask the government, in the wake of this tragedy, to turn its urgent attention to the issues of land reform," Sin said.
Also on Sunday, Antonio Quintos, director of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, said the panel's chairman, Jose Diokno, the vice chairman, and three other members have resigned to protest the 15 deaths.
He said the committee was also disturbed by delays in prosecutions of soldiers in human rights cases.
Aquino created the committee last March to investigate complaints of human rights violations during the 20-year regime of ousted leader Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Quintos said the five members submitted a joint, three-paragraph resignation letter on Friday and that they will meet today with Aquino. Sources close to the commission said Aquino might attempt to persuade the members to reconsider their decision.
The crisis comes right before a Feb. 2 plebiscite on a new constitution, which is regarded as a vote of confidence on Aquino.
About 5,000 Marcos backers burned copies of the draft charter at a rally near Manila on Sunday.
Teodoro Benigno, spokesman for Aquino, said it was her 54th birthday Sunday and that she spent the day with her family. He said she was "very concerned, as any president should be," about a march in Manila planned today by leftists.
Leftist leaders have announced plans to conduct the "indignation march" on the presidential palace to protest last week's killings. They have said the march will be unarmed but that it will attempt to push through any barricades thrown up on the way to the palace.
Leandro Alejandro, a leader of the leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, told reporters Sunday that organizers will meet Aquino before the rally to present grievances and try to convince her to let demonstrators cross Mendiola bridge to the palace gates.
"If one more rallyist or bystander is killed, then you can expect more decisive action from our end," Alejandro said.
In preparation for today's march, troops were placed on "red alert" in Manila and were ordered to arrest any "troublemakers."