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Extra Judicial Killings in the Philippines

A Deadly Place for Human Rights Advocates

The Philippines is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to
engage in human rights advocacy. Front Line Defenders, a global organization that
protects human rights defenders, ranked the country the second most dangerous
for human rights advocates. Global Witness, an international advocacy group
fighting against environmental and human rights abuses, says it is the third-
deadliest for environmental and Indigenous rights activists. Committee to Protect
Journalists, which promotes press freedom and the right of journalists to report the
news without reprisal worldwide, sees it as the fourth-most dangerous country for
journalists. In 2015, the US State Department concluded in its yearly report that
"the most significant human rights problem continued to be extrajudicial killings
undertaken by security forces" in the Philippines.

Extrajudicial killing is not explicitly defined in international law. Some broadly


define it as a killing that is not sanctioned by the courts and done outside the legal
system. The Philippine Supreme Court further refined this definition to also consider
the political affiliation of the victim, the method of attack and alleged involvement
of state agents (Ambay,M., 2016).

Extra Judicial Killings under Duterte

What makes the EJK policy under Duterte different from the past are its targets
and the breathtaking magnitude of the killings.

While criminals have long been the subject of salvagings by the police (as former
Manila police chief Alfredo Dirty Harry Lim would cryptically say, Dalhiin na sa
Tondo yan), the rate by which drug users and pushers are killed today, either in
police operations or vigilante killings, are unprecedented in Philippine anti-crime
history. An EJK is often justified by making it appear that the victim deserved it.
During Arroyos time, the AFP came up with a PowerPoint presentation titled
Knowing Thy Enemy that labeled activists and their organizations as communist
front organizations and enemies of the state. Local area commands would come
up with an Order of Battle, a list lumping together names of activists, suspected
NPA rebels and their sympathizers. Many of those on the list eventually ended up
dead, missing, arrested, tortured or forced into surrendering. Military officials
would later blame the communists themselves for the killings, saying it was the
result of an internal purge.
Nowadays we have that ubiquitous cardboard saying Drug pusher, huwag
tularan. Like the activists during Arroyos time, suspected drug users and dealers
are subject to public vilification through Oplan Tokhang. They are forced into
surrendering and admitting guilt on the basis of a nebulous list drawn up by the
police and barangay officials. In fact, many of those who surrendered have
succumbed to vigilante killings

What makes todays EJKs particularly complicated is that the victims are
considered undesirable members of society. Unlike activists or revolutionaries, drug
addicts and pushers have no redeeming quality. These are not idealists being killed
for exercising their constitutional rights or addressing legitimate social grievances.
Druggies, for most people, are the scum of the earth that should be wiped out from
existence.

Notice that when activists or rebels are summarily executed, their families and the
communities that they have served immediately demand justice. Human rights
groups, whose orientation has traditionally been, and for good reason, to protect the
rights of political dissenters immediately investigate and act to prevent more
killings. Networks of organizations are easily formed to hold the perpetrators to
account.

On the other hand, when drug dealers are killed, their families hang their heads in
shame and the community silently rejoices at the loss of another troublemaker.
Everything is accepted as a consequence of the victims alleged illegal activities
(Casio,T., 2016).

The challenges

If we are to stop the killings, the first challenge is for the public to denounce it. Like
in so many issues, public opposition, or better yet outrage, is needed for the
government to change its policy.

Unfortunately, whenever people are painted as rebels, terrorists or criminals, it


becomes difficult to denounce their killing. The initial indifference when activists
started getting killed during the Arroyo regime is similar to todays ambivalence in
the face of the killings of suspected drug addicts and pushers. Oftentimes it is only
when the obviously innocent are killed like children and nursing mothers that the
public is moved to denounce EJKs.

Denouncing the killings should not mean condoning the alleged illegal activities of
its victims. What it should translate to is a demand for the police and military to
follow the law and respect due process and human rights, so that criminals can be
properly punished in accordance with what is in the law.

The second challenge is for the families and friends of the victims of EJKs to stand
up and demand for justice. It is understandable that many of them would rather
sweep the killings under the rug, considering the stigma of being linked to
suspected drug criminals. However, it would be difficult for government agencies
like the Commission on Human Rights, National Police Commission, Department of
Justice, or human rights organizations and civil society organizations, to be taking
up the cudgels for people who do not want to be helped in the first place.

The third challenge is for human rights groups to expand their advocacy to include
those whose rights are violated on the basis of purely criminal, non-political
offences. While the traditional political orientation of human rights advocacy is as
important as ever, urgent attention is needed for atrocities committed in the course
of Dutertes war on drugs and other anti-crime campaigns. Such a challenge will not
be easy, considering that most human rights groups are already so stretched in
terms of resources and manpower in dealing with political and counter-insurgency
related human rights violations.

Because the use of EJKs is an unwritten state policy in the Philippines, the only way
to prevent it is for the people themselves to demand a stop to the practice
(Casio,T., 2016)

Extrajudicial killings as crime against humanity

A TOTAL of 3,257 extrajudicial killings (EJKs) were committed during the Marcos
dictatorship. In contrast, there were 805 drug-related fatalities from May 10 (when
Rodrigo Duterte emerged winner of the presidential election) to Aug. 12, per the
Inquirer count.
If the current rate continues, the total number of EJKs for the six years of the
Duterte administration will end up about 700 percent more than the killings
committed during the 14 years of the Marcos dictatorship.
President Duterte is either ill-advised or terribly underestimating the risk that he can
be held liable at the International Criminal Court, given the circumstances of the
killings.

In 2011, the Philippines ratified the Rome Statute which established the
International Criminal Court. Under this treaty, every Filipino, including the
President, can be tried by this Court which has jurisdiction over crimes against
humanity. The treaty provides that when murder is committed as part of a
widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with
knowledge of the attack, it becomes a crime against humanity.
The possibility that the current EJKs will be considered by the International Criminal
Court as amounting to a crime against humanity is a liability risk that our President
is miscalculating.
Ruben Carranza, director of the New-York-based International Center for Transitional
Justice, points out that [w]hen over 500 civilians have been killed by both police
and vigilantes with the clear goal of targeting them in a war against drugs, with
their impunity explicitly guaranteed by the president, then the elements of EJKs as a
crime against humanity of murder are already there(a) widespread or systematic
killings, (b) civilians are targeted, and (c) the perpetrators know or intended their
conduct to be part of a widespread or systematic attack.
On Aug. 11, Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque delivered a privilege speech in
which he said: It is clear that the civilian population is being attackednews
reports all around us overwhelmingly establish that hundreds of Filipinos have been
killed either directly by governmental forces or with their support or tolerance.
Roque likewise said: It is also clear that the President is aware that these acts are
ongoing. Even without proof of a directive on his part, he has, in many instances,
spoken about the use of violence against drug syndicates.
Roque cited the decisions of international criminal tribunals which prosecuted
political and military officials for crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and
the former Yugoslavia. These tribunals declared that it is not necessary to show
that [the crimes committed] were the result of the existence of a policy or plan and
that the plan need not be declared expressly or even stated clearly and precisely. It
may be surmised from the occurrence of a series of events.
The party-list representative cautioned the President to be careful: While it would
be imprudent for me to say with certainty that President Duterte has already
committed a crime against humanity, it would be a disservice to this entire nation if
I did not warn him to be careful. Neither the Rome Statute nor general international
law prescribes a minimum number of victims for an indictment. So long as the
[International Criminal Court] believes that the war on drugs is widespread and
systematic, [it is] likely to investigate.
The President enjoys immunity under Philippine law, but he has no similar
immunity for crimes under the International Criminal Courts jurisdiction. Carranza
says the presidents of Sudan and Kenya were charged in the court even during
their incumbency. And there is no expiration of liability for ICC crimes, so he can be
charged even long after he leaves Malacaang.
The determination of Mr. Duterte to cleanse the country of the drug menace and
his willingness to risk his life, honor, and the presidency to achieve this goal are
praiseworthy.
However, we are at that stage of our civilization where we have long abandoned
the ancient practice of relying on operatives to dispense justice through the
smoking barrel of their guns. We have advanced our civilization by relying on gun-
wielding men to apprehend criminals, but have separately assigned the task of
listening to accusations of guilt and protestations of innocence to men and women
who mete out penalties.
It is true that our current justice system is notoriously imperfect and graft-prone.
But we do not improve our way of life by marching back to the Dark Ages where
justice is made synonymous with violence. We improve our defective justice system
by fixing it, not by abandoning it.
It is true that the proliferation of drugs is partly due to corrupt judges. But it is also
true that illegal drugs proliferate because of a corrupt police force and a corrupt
prosecution service, both of which are executive agencies within the Presidents
control to reform.
It is also true that before our children become drug dependents who clog police
and court dockets, there are the education, health, and social welfare departments
which are executive agencies within the Presidents control to tap for instructive,
reformative, and curative solutions to the drug menace.
We want our President to succeed in his fight against illegal drugs. But in his haste
and zeal, he may end up accused of a crime more serious than the ones
perpetrated by his archenemies. The last thing our country needs is a President
facing trial at the International Criminal Court (Batuyan,J.R., 2016).
Reference list

Ambay,M (2016). A deadly place for human rights advocates.

Casio,T (2016). Extra judicial killing under duterte.

(Batuyan,J.R., 2016). Extrajudicial killings as crime against humanity.