Philippine rights office to investigate mass grave

The Philippines' human rights commission said Monday that it would investigate a report by the military that it has exhumed a mass grave containing at least 30 suspected victims of a 1980s communist rebel purge.

Loretta Ann Rosales, chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, said her office would look into the mass grave, but that it's too early to say whether the remains found in northern Quezon province were victims of a rebel purge.

Soldiers and policemen on Sunday unearthed at least 30 skeletal remains of people believed slain by New People's Army, or NPA, rebels as suspected military spies in the 1980s, army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said.

The remains were exhumed from a shallow grave discovered by a farmer in San Francisco town, he said.

Cabunoc said some of the skeletons bore marks of torture, including cracked skulls.

He said none of the remains had been identified, and appealed to those with missing relatives to cooperate with authorities in identifying them.

Rosales urged caution before drawing conclusions. "We will investigate, but let's not make any conclusion yet on who did it," she said in a telephone interview.

Leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the NPA, have acknowledged that some rebel commanders killed 600-900 suspected spies and government informers in the southern Mindanao region more than two decades ago.

More than 60 other suspected spies were killed in Quezon province and outlying areas southeast of Manila, according to people who survived the purge.

The guerrillas later acknowledged the killings as among the most horrible blunders in the Marxist insurgency, which has raged for 43 years.

Cristina Palabay, spokeswoman for the Philippine human rights group Karapatan, challenged the military to prove its allegation that the grave contained victims of the NPA.

She said similar discoveries in the past had been used by the military as reasons to arrest left-wing activists allegedly linked to the mass killings.