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'Security in the Philippines'

May 20, 1988

I was quite surprised to read "Security Overkill in the Philippines" by John G. Healey (Op-Ed Pages, May 3) in your usually reliable paper because the writer obviously did not know what he was talking about.

He says that the government authorized and encouraged the formation of civilian self-defense forces. The government did not originally organize the Alsa Masa in Davao, the first of these groups. It did acknowledge the group's contribution to the country: They got rid of the communist New People's Army activities in their area. The operations of these groups are being reviewed, by the way, to prevent abuses.

At the risk of attempting what Healey describes as "impossible," the Nueva Ecija killing of 17 villagers can be logically explained and we do not know if any military group--Filipino or American--could have acted differently.

I do not know if Healey asked enough questions as a newsman to discover that the head of that patrol in Lupao had asked for water for himself and his men in that village. While he was going down the bamboo stairs, he was shot at from the house. His men fired at the source of the bullets. The NPA had used people in the house as shields (something they often do) and the soldiers had no way of knowing the situation. All they knew was that their commander had been shot at and they were returning fire.

The soldiers, moreover, are being tried in connection with the case to determine their culpability, if any.

We disagree with Healey's statement that "unlawful killings by government forces and government-supported groups have become the most serious human rights problem in the Philippines today."

More than 110 soldiers, policemen and local officials have been killed in cold blood by "sparrow units" of the NPA. At least one of them was gunned down while he was taking his son home from school. Others were directing traffic or going about their daily lives. If this is not a violation of human rights, we don't know what is.

I am glad that Healey acknowledged that incidents of torture have "dramatically declined from the Marcos days." That should be grounds for Healey to ask more questions before concluding that the government is helpless in minimizing abuses by its military arm.



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