MonthSeptember 2017

EJK: policy and practice

EJK: policy and practice” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 23, 2017. Photo by PCOO.

The messages in the Sept. 21 “Day of Protest” at the UP Chapel Mass and the unveiling of the Jose “Pepe” Diokno statue at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters inevitably focused on EJK. The issue remains cloudy, despite the precious time Senate hearings spent fruitlessly debating what has become almost an academic issue: Is there a government policy to kill drug offenders?

PNP Chief “Bato” dela Rosa insisted that President Duterte has never issued a policy statement or direct order instructing the police to kill drug addicts. Mr. Duterte has maintained the same point. Although he has explicitly warned addicts, “I will kill you if you are destroying my country,” he tirelessly repeats that no law prohibits him from threatening to kill criminals.

Until someone miraculously discovers evidence of high officials prescribing EJK, government authorities can simply stand on their denials. Debating the issue only served to inflict on the public Dela Rosa’s tearful defense of his misunderstood, unappreciated policemen. But, whether explicitly mandated or not, EJK is undeniably taking place, raising legitimate questions about unresolved killings done during police operations or by unnamed vigilantes.

The issue is not policy, but practice. Threats to kill addicts would not themselves be alarming, except that suspects actually end up dead without benefit of due process. The administration has made little progress investigating these thousands of deaths, let alone delivering justice to the victims.

The corollary question revolves around the extent to which Duterte statements contributed to justifying and promoting the practice of EJK. Both BBC and the New York Times have collected some choice items:

“Forget the laws on human rights…. You drug pushers, holdup men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because … I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

“[As mayor] I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle … and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble…. I was really looking for a confrontation, so I could kill.”

“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts… I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

He stood by the police charged with the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, “because they might have really followed my order (Kasi baka nga talaga sinunod yung utos ko).”

Presidential apologists twist their tongues and turn cartwheels to interpret the intent of these statements on EJK and impunity as histrionic, hyperbolic, or humorous. But presidential words matter. At the minimum, the death count in the drug war clearly causes the President little concern. He rejoiced at the one-day record of 32 drug-war deaths established in August: “That’s beautiful (Maganda yun). If we can just kill 32 every day then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.” At that rate, journalist Vergel Santos calculated, it would take Mr. Duterte over 34 years to eliminate his estimated 4 million drug addicts.

We are also familiar with policies and regulations that are routinely violated because they are not enforced and violations go unpunished. We now discover examples critical to the drug war.

Within a year, two shipments totaling nearly 1,500 kilos of “shabu” went through the Bureau of Customs. Sen. Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson noted that the laws prescribe detailed guidelines on the disposal of captured drug materials and the prosecution of suspects implicated in the capital, nonbailable crime of drug trafficking. Sen. Richard Gordon joined them in denouncing the lax implementation of policy that allowed massive quantities of drugs to flood the country—while the police vigorously hunted down possible peddlers of shabu sachets.

We see, on one hand, clear policies, validated by successful antidrug campaigns in other countries that interdicted the flow of drugs from overseas and targeted the big drug lords, which are not being faithfully enforced. On the other hand, we see piling up suspected and unresolved EJK cases; the administration denies that this is the result of policy, but the suspicious deaths are daily happening in practice, without visible government intervention.

It is a curious and outrageous predicament that has not provoked, but might have justified, the usual presidential expletives. ###

Edilberto de Jesus
Edilberto de Jesus is a former Secretary of Education. He is also professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

What makes Callamard ‘scary’?

What makes Callamard ‘scary’?” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 2, 2017. Photo by CMFR.

On the day of Kian delos Santos’ interment at La Loma Cemetery, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said in a tweet: “My heart-felt condolences to #Kian family and to all families victimized by this cruel war.” The tweet carried the hashtags #Makehisdeaththelast and #Philippines.

Asked for his reaction to the Callamard tweet, President Duterte could have responded in several different ways. Perhaps he could not honestly commit to a war on drugs that did not result in casualties. But he could have reassured Callamard that his administration did not condone the extrajudicial killing of Kian and would take the necessary steps to avoid adding to the list of EJK victims.

He had already arrived at the same conclusion—emerging from surveillance cameras, the testimony of witnesses, the autopsy conducted by the Public Attorney’s Office—that the Filipino public and Callamard reached: Police operatives had murdered Kian. After seeing the CCTV footage, he reportedly called PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa to order the arrest and detention of the policemen involved.

In many of his public speeches, Mr. Duterte routinely repeats his standing orders to the police: In the performance of their lawful duties, they can kill suspects who offer violent resistance and he will defend them against potential charges of human rights violations. But the Kian killing prompted an explicit warning against going beyond the bounds of their mandate: “You are not allowed to kill a person who is kneeling down, begging for his life. That is murder.”

Kian was not the first EJK victim in the war on drugs. But his was the first EJK that Mr. Duterte has tacitly acknowledged. Accordingly, Mr. Duterte does not consider himself obliged to spare the killers from the legal consequences of their crime. The incident might also explain the candid confession: “I promised that I will do away with shabu. Now I know it won’t be fulfilled, that this really will not end.”

A response to Callamard based on his public response to the Kian case would have helped improve the government’s relations with UN human rights officials. Instead, Mr. Duterte reverted to what appears to be the presidential default option when confronting perceived criticism; he cursed Callamard and warned her not to “scare” (takutin) him. This allowed Callamard to take the moral high ground: “Kian and others like him deserve dignity and justice … our respect and empathy. Not expletives.”

A couple of earlier Callamard tweets perhaps explain why Mr. Duterte went ballistic. One claimed Kian was the “latest symbol of a massive, government-led, human rights crisis,” and the second said “all unlawful deaths must be investigated. To stop all murderers.” While the first was clearly critical, it would be difficult to disagree with the second, and it is not clear why the President should find either tweet scary or threatening.

Mr. Duterte also criticized the French legal system as based on the presumption that the accused is guilty and bears the burden of proving innocence. The French Embassy quickly responded, asserting that the presumption of innocence is “enshrined in the French Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of August 26, 1789,” and adding that “France strongly believes in the importance of the rule of law, due process, and respect for human rights in all countries, including the Philippines.” Unfortunately, the French correction will probably fail to reach most of the people who listened to Mr. Duterte and who will remain victims of fake news.

By speaking out against the Kian killing, meeting with the parents and giving assurances that justice will be served, Mr. Duterte has managed to temper the public outrage against EJK. But the immoderate reaction to Callamard raises questions about how differently the war on drugs will be waged. Will there be greater supervision and control of antidrug operations to prevent EJK? A faster pace to the investigation of drug war deaths, now that the Kian killing has prompted collaboration between the PNP and the Commission on Human Rights?

If these are genuinely new objectives in a war he insists must continue, Mr. Duterte will need the public’s assistance in monitoring its conduct, to avert more Kian killings or ensure that the killers are punished. ###

Edilberto de Jesus
Edilberto de Jesus is a former Secretary of Education. He is also professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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