Manlaban, a new alliance of lawyers against extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and other human rights violations, rejects the Philippine government’s claim of zero extra-judicial killings despite the death of thousands in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
“That will not pass any kind of test, whether local or international, given the President’s statements and the strategy of his war against drugs,” stressed Dean Antonio La Viña during the launching press conference of the Mga Manananggol Laban sa Extrajudicial Killings.
The alliance described Duterte’s campaign as "a blatant disregard of the right to life."
Incoming Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday dismissed criticism of EJKs on grounds that no evidence points to direct orders from Duterte.
Manlaban convenors, however, cited the President’s attempts at “inducement,” the coddling of suspected cop killers, a dearth in transparency, and the runaround given to families of those slain in Duterte’s campaign.
They also pointed out the doctrine of “command responsibility.”
La Viña said international agreements define EJKs as direct acts of the state or sanctioned by the state.
“We can debate the President’s statements and directives and polices like Operation Tokhang,” La Viña said. “But EJKs include killings that are not investigated by the state when it is mandated to do so.”
The Philippine National Police (PNP) claimed last month that the country has zero EJKs.
The agency on October 9 said it has records of 6,225 “drug-related killings” from July 1, 2016 to August 29, 2017.
Of these, 3,811 deaths were due to police operations and 2,290 lumped under “deaths under investigation,” a category that includes so-called vigilante killings or rubouts during gang turf wars.
The PNP is mandated by law to investigate all deaths that occur during official operations.
Yet only 71 of 6,225 cases – little more than one percent – have resulted to charges filed before the Justice Department as of September 2017.
Of these, 45 involved police operations. Only 19 cases have been filed in court, mostly by rights activists and private legal groups.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) requested in September a review of cases of killings during police operations.
The request was turned down by Undersecretary Catalino Cuy, officer-in-charge of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which oversees the PNP.
"Once it's collated, we have to get clearance from the President," Cuy said, citing Duterte’s insistence that no police officer or soldier can be investigated for alleged human rights violations without his permission.
The President and law enforcement officials have accused rogue cops in the pay of drug gangs and destabilizers of sabotaging his campaign.
“That’s deliberate,” Duterte said on September 8, referring to a series of cop killings of youth.
“Silipin mong mabuti kasisinasabotahe kayo,” he ordered PNP Director-General Ronald de la Rosa.
(Look closely into these cases; they look like sabotage.)
Two weeks ago, Duterte reiterated, “there are no EJKs here.”
“We don't even know how to define EJK,” the President said. “Other countries can't force their definition because we are sovereign nation.”
Edre Olalia, executive director of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and a Manlaban convenor, said killings perpetrated by state agents outside the legal and judicial process should be considered EJKs or summary executions.
Government officials like to claim that there are no extra-judicial killings since there is no judicial killing due to the absence of the death penalty.
That just means these killings are all extra-judicial, except in cases where there is clear proof of suspects fighting it out, Olalia said.
The NUPL and other legal groups, he pointed out, have already filed murder cases against police officers after witnesses came out to dispute their “nanlaban” (resisting arrest) claim.
He also cited the case of minor Kian de los Santos slain by Caloocan cops. Police initially claimed the 17-year-old had tried to shoot at arresting officers.
Witnesses, however, said cops dragged an unarmed youth through alleys before shooting him, a claim backed up by barangay video footage and forensic experts.
The crucial factor is whether a person was killed without being given due process, Olalia stressed.
In Kian’s case, police have admitted they had no reports of the minor's involvement in drugs prior to their operation.
Olalia and another Manlaban convenor, former lawmaker Erin Tañada, stressed the need to look at specific government actions.
Tañada cited the case of Supt. Marvin Marcos, the leader of cops accused of the killing jailed Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa and another inmate in November 2016.
“Instead of pursuing cases of murders, what we have are downgrades,” Tañada pointed out.
Marcos, then head of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8 (CIDG-8), was allowed to post bail after prosecutors downgraded the murder charges to homicide.
Duterte also ordered the reinstatement of Marcos to active duty despite the homicide charges. The police officer was assigned to head the CIDG’s Region 12 office.
While criminal liability is personal, meaning people directly involved in killings, Olalia said, “beyond that, moral and political responsibility leads all the way to the Palace.”
He accused Duterte of inducing, condoning and emboldening perpetrators of summary executions.
Only lately, due to criticism and mounting protests, has the President tried to change the tenor of his drug-war rhetoric, Olalia added.
“We cannot differentiate legal responsibility from moral and political responsibility,” he stressed.
Dean Pacifico Agabin, a prominent constitutional law expert, slammed Duterte’s “war” posture in the anti-narcotics campaign.
The use of “war” is a propaganda device to create an image of strong resistance to the campaign, according to Agabin.
“To claim there is a war is misleading. Wala namang labanan,” Agabin stressed.
“In 98% of these killings, the poor do not fight back; these were tricycle drivers, unemployed youth,” he pointed out.
He also cited command responsibility, which the country accepted when it ratified the Rome Statute in 2011.
“If there is a pattern of killings and commander in chief does not do anything, then he is responsible,” Agabin said.
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