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.