What are the chances of a thorough police investigation into the killing of political activists? It would depend on how the Arroyo regime defines, and how the police interprets, “thorough,” certain words–practically the entire English language, in fact–having been so debased by every Philippine government since Marcos they’ve lost their original meaning.

By universal agreement among English-language users and dictionary makers, “thorough” means “systematic,” “complete,” and “detailed.” These meanings imply that any “thorough” investigation would use methodical, logical, rational, even scientific means to get at the truth.

But getting at the truth and being thorough at it also implies being “scrupulous,” not only in the sense of “careful,” but also in the sense of “impartial” and “unbiased” as well as “fair”. To be all these a “thorough investigation” must be supervised by impartial and fair professionals endowed with methodical skill.

No one would deny except the police themselves that, except for extremely rare instances, the police are neither professional nor even specially skilled. Let’s not even get into the issue of how the police– as the US State Department, Amnesty International and even the government’s own Commission on Human Rights agree– torture crime suspects and beat confessions out of them.

It is not professional dedication but political expediency that drives the police hierarchy when addressing issues regarded as controversial in this country. This was evident, for example, in its effort to make it appear that over half of 79 cases of murdered journalists has been solved.

Those who cite the fact that only in three cases has anyone been tried for these killings are blandly told that suspects have been identified, and theories advanced as to motives in 45 cases—a statement that in effect redefines the meaning of “solved,” which, any standard dictionary would tell us, means “uncovered,” “found,” “explained” with finality.

In criminal cases, “solved” also means that suspects have been apprehended, tried, and punished. Why this linguistic atrocity is being perpetrated not only on adults but also on children the government wants to be proficient in English is clear enough: it is to deny that the police has been less than thorough and even biased (some of those involved are policemen and local officials) in looking for the killers of journalists. But it is also meant to acquit the Arroyo regime of the charge, which has reached as far as the US Congress, that it isn’t doing anything about the killings.

But the larger context is the continuing crisis of Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy. Regime performance in the human rights arena, particularly in how it has harassed the press, and dealt with the killing of activists and journalists can have an impact on that crisis. But Filipinos should not think that what they believe matters more to the regime than what the international community (read: the United States) believes.

Over the last several weeks international human rights organizations have been commenting on the killing of activists and journalists, as well as on the regime’s assault on human rights in general. But it is US reaction—expressed via the US media, US think tanks, and lately, even the US Congress (which has pointedly called on Mrs. Arroyo to do something about the killing of journalists)—that the regime regards as crucial, not only to US support for it, but even to its survival.

It was in an obvious attempt to placate US critics that the Philippine National Police issued the spurious claim that 45 murders of journalists have been solved. This is the same sorry context in which Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered a “thorough” investigation of the killing of political activists.

How impartial the investigation would be could already be gleaned from the statements of one of the designated members of the task force Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno created last week. PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group head Chief Superintendent Jesus Versoza thus initially offered, not solutions, but a so-called “analysis” of the killings from 2001 onwards, with a likely focus on “motives.”

Police analyses aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. It’s not only because of the obvious limits of the analytical capacities of their authors. It is also because they’re made to order to please superiors. We can thus expect little from that promise beyond the usual.

But Versoza also left little to the imagination as to what the motives behind the killings could be. During the press conference called by Puno last week, Versoza advanced two theories: that it was the militants who were killing each other, and that, despite the fact that all 42 of those killed from 2001 were members of militant groups, the killings could have been motivated by “personal” grudges. Completely missing from Versoza’s short list was the possibility that the killings are part of a government campaign to physically eliminate members and leaders of leftist groups.

Naturally. Linguistic subterfuges aside, it was the Arroyo regime that last week ordered itself to investigate itself. The principal suspects in the killings are military elements who are unlikely to be committing the killings without a policy decision from the highest levels of government. Thus did Mrs. Arroyo order her own police to do a “thorough” investigation—wink, wink—on the understanding—wink, wink—that “thorough” would not only mean getting itself off the hook, but even implicating the militant groups in the killing of its own members and leaders. Wink, wink.

What’s obvious even to the blind at this point is that only an investigation by an impartial group can be “thorough” enough to get at the truth rather than conceal it. None of the regime agencies, least of all its police, is in that category.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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