TagRodrigo Duterte

Topping the Impunity Index

Topping the Impunity Index” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 7, 2017. 

Ranking 69 countries, the 2017 Global Impunity Index (GII) gave us first place. This suggests that if you are a criminal, you are safest practicing your occupation in the Philippines. You would be less likely to be arrested; if arrested, prosecuted; if prosecuted, convicted; if convicted, punished. If you had the lofty connections of, say, a senator or a president, you can, after sentencing, hope for pardon.

To be fair, the Duterte administration cannot take sole credit for this dubious distinction. Impunity has plagued us for decades, leading many to favor tough action against suspected criminals and, up to a point, to excuse police violations of due process. The backlash against EJK shows this point may have already been reached. A law-and-order president should want the GII image of the Philippines corrected.

Addressing impunity requires interrogating two factors affecting the framework of security, justice and human rights. First, has the state invested resources to provide enough policemen and jails, judges and courtrooms, and human rights monitors to ensure the rule of law? Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Director Serafin Barretto said the jail congestion rate of 558 percent was the world’s highest in 2015, beating Haiti’s 454 percent.

Looking at the number of judges against population, GII figures showed a global average of one judge overseeing 6,250 people. In Croatia, the least afflicted by impunity, the ratio was 1:2,200 and in Mexico, 1:23,800. The ratio of Philippine lower court judges to population in 2006-2009 was over 1:60,000.

In 2017, the Philippines maintained one police officer for 650, against the global average of 1:315. Mexico surpassed this average number with 280 people for each police officer. But Mexico’s fourth-place finish in the 2017 GII drives home the centrality of the second factor affecting impunity: the operational effectiveness of the security and justice systems. Do the people running these systems possess the requisite knowledge, skills, and values? Consider Caloocan.

Raising the number of police officers and judges to a minimum level is necessary, but not sufficient, to avert the problem of impunity. Law enforcers must also have the necessary qualifications for the job and follow the rule of law in their application. Monitoring their respect for human rights is thus a necessary measure to ensure the proper functioning of the security and justice systems.

The Duterte administration inherited deeply flawed systems—and made problems worse in three ways. It launched the war on drugs without serious planning for the issues of detention and rehabilitation. The BJMP predicts drug arrests this year to approach 200,000. In the urban areas, drug suspects make up 75-80 percent of prison inmates. Will a prison sentence in overcrowded jails, at the 2012 budget cost of P19,345 per prisoner—higher than the P15,000 conditional cash transfer family subsidy—contribute to the rehabilitation of drug addicts?

Second, opinion surveys reflect a widespread concern that a large number of crimes concealed by impunity are now committed by state agents. Consider Caloocan and the killing of Korean Jee Ick-joo in Camp Crame. Senators have recognized that EJK does happen and thousands of “under-investigation” cases remain unresolved. Even more alarming, the President has encouraged, by word and deed, the belief that constitutional guarantees of human rights and due process will not deter the war on drugs. Consider Caloocan and the downgrading of the charges against the 19 killers of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa.

Third, resource constraints that systemically impede the delivery of justice politicize and aggravate the issue of implementation. On the corruption cases, the protest is not that those charged are innocent, but that equally guilty parties have not been prosecuted. If we cannot simultaneously prosecute all “big fish” criminals, do we abandon convicting those we can?

Mr. Duterte gallantly insists that ladies should go first; he should be investigated for hidden wealth only after the investigation of the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman. The ladies have declared their willingness to undergo investigation. Mr. Duterte has rejected investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman. In rejecting constitutional processes to check abuse of power, he gives further substance to the GII judgment giving the Philippines the global prize for tolerating impunity. ###

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

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.

The Parojinog provocation

The Parojinog provocation” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on August 19, 2017.

Frustration with a judicial system that did not deliver justice drove many to support Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential bid. But many have recoiled at the postelection surge in unresolved killings by police forces and freelance vigilantes. As in Aesop’s fable, the frogs who accepted a crocodile king to discipline their divided and dysfunctional colony discovered that a ruler’s unrestrained power to exterminate the guilty also risked extinguishing the innocent.

The government’s predawn assault on the homes of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog on July 30 produced 16 fatalities (including the mayor and his wife, sister, brother and nephew) and sharpened the dilemma that President Duterte posed for many voters. Those vulnerable to the clan’s power probably felt liberated and relieved, even if they objected in principle to EJK. Reflective of this dilemma was Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s ambivalence on whether to conduct a Senate inquiry into the matter.

Octavio Parojinog rose to power in the 1980s as the founder of the Kuratong Baleleng, a government-backed anticommunist militia group. Tolerated as a vigilante group, the Kuratong turned to extortion, armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom, provoking criminal charges and armed clashes with the police. Octavio was killed in 1990 while resisting arrest; charges against his sons, Renato, Ricardo and Reynaldo, were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Whether admired as Robin Hood figures or feared as a Mafia family, the Parojinogs remained dominant in their province and easily diversified into politics, also a potentially lucrative undertaking. In 2001 Renato won a provincial board seat and Reynaldo became mayor of Ozamiz. Third-generation descendants subsequently won city and provincial elections. Mayor Reynaldo and his daughter, Vice Mayor Nova Princess, were charged with corruption in 2008 and ordered arrested in 2016. The charges were dismissed only a year later.

As chief superintendent and head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, Lacson led Task Force Habagat that engaged and killed 11 Kuratong gang members in 1991. The victims’ families denounced the operation as a “rubout.” Charges filed against Lacson and his men reached the Supreme Court but were dismissed in 2002.

Despite the similarities with the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa—operations conducted in the dead of night, missing or nonfunctioning surveillance cameras—Lacson was inclined to see the action against the Parojinogs as aboveboard. But he was categorical in condemning the killing of Espinosa as premeditated murder and the downgrading to homicide of the charges filed against Supt. Marvin Marcos and his men. Mayor Parojinog, he observed, was not killed in a jail cell.

Mayor Parojinog reportedly had the inside track for the governor’s seat in the next election. Even those concerned about EJK recognized that further consolidation of the family’s grip on provincial politics would likely doom any criminal case lodged against its members. This pragmatic assessment argued for quietly accepting the summary execution of notorious criminals, rather than depending for justice on our fragile legal institutions. But who will make the call on who deserves EJK? As Joaquin Bernas, SJ, used to say, “The King should have this power, if I am King.”

Senior administration officials appear recently to have rediscovered the Constitution. Defending Superintendent Marcos, Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo admonished critics to observe “the constitutional presumption of innocence,” a line also taken by the PNP chief, Ronald dela Rosa. Allegations of Davao City Mayor Paolo Duterte’s involvement in Bureau of Customs corruption involving drugs did not prompt Mr. Duterte to call for the investigation of the case; he asked to see the evidence proving his son’s guilt.

We should welcome the administration’s appeal to constitutional rights, due process, and credible evidence. It has not been as zealous about meeting these standards before executing suspects in drug crimes. It has insisted that it must privilege the rights of the innocent over those of criminals. But, as pointed out with greater eloquence by St. Thomas More, rejecting the laws that protect the rights of the guilty deprives the innocent of their protection.

Granting the government the power to choose whose rights deserve respect slides us back to Square 1: an unjust judicial system giving impunity to the powerful—the problem that voters had hoped the Duterte presidency would correct. ###

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

Pardon for the Albuera 19?

Pardon for the Albuera 19” was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on April 1, 2017. Photo by PNP-PIO

Two events last week raised extrajudicial killing (EJK) as an urgent concern for our political leaders and the public. No April Fool’s joke.

On March 27, PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa launched his personal drive to “disprove” claims of 7,000 EJKs. On March 29 in Oriental Mindoro, Du30 said he would advise the policemen charged with the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa to plead guilty, and then grant them absolute pardon.

The government has tried various ways to counter claims about EJKs in the country. One attempt was to redefine it away. Assistant Interior Secretary Epimaco Densing III argued that, without a death penalty, there is no judicial killing: “If a country has no judicial killing, there’s no extrajudicial killing.” Another approach was to decline the search for evidence of its existence.

Whistle-blowers Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas offered testimony on EJKs based on personal knowledge, under oath and against self-interest. Detecting mistakes in details, the Senate inquiry dismissed Matobato’s veracity; EJK victims, for instance, were wrapped in “packaging,” and not “masking,” tape, as he had claimed. But masking tape was the common generic term in the region, the way Colgate once stood for toothpaste.

Senators deemed Lascañas untrustworthy. He had fooled them once in denying that “death squads” operated in Davao; they refused to be fooled a second time. As appropriate reflection for Holy Week, one wonders if our bible-thumpers in the Senate would disqualify Peter as a witness because he thrice lied knowing Christ.

Dela Rosa took a slightly different tack. That over 7,000 killings have taken place under Du30’s watch was not really in dispute. The controversy was over the classification of these killings. Which ones were EJK?

From Dela Rosa’s perspective, none of them. At a Camp Crame briefing, he asked the media to “forget about EJK, don’t use that term,” challenging them to cite any instance when the PNP used it. For him, EJK meant “state-sponsored killing.” But a meaningful response to EJK allegations must take the term as it is generally understood.

The essential element of EJK is not state-sponsorship but the participation of state security forces or their agents in the killing of any person without sanction of a judicial or legal process. Rogue police can commit EJK. Both Dela Rosa and Du30 have publicly denounced widespread police corruption that required the suspension of “Tokhang” operations.

To assert that the government has not ordered, has opposed and has punished EJK is not sufficient. International law binds states to “take effective action to prevent, combat and eliminate [EJK] … in all its forms and manifestations.”

As Dela Rosa intended, the criterion of state sponsorship for EJK sets a high bar for proof. But Du30 has undermined his intent by intervening in the case that comes closest to meeting the standard: the killing of Albuera Mayor Espinosa. In the dark of dawn, avoiding security cameras and keeping eyewitnesses at bay, 19 police agents, including high-ranking officers, killed Espinosa in his jail cell. A confessed drug criminal and father of a drug lord, Espinosa had surrendered to Dela Rosa, believing that he would be safe in prison.

The NBI and several senators concluded that Espinosa’s death was a “rubout.” No official, written order for the Espinosa killing has yet surfaced. But the careful planning and the involvement of so many PNP and state agents give the case the odor of a premeditated state operation. Du30’s insistence from the beginning that the killing was justified and that he would give them absolute pardon may supply the final stamp of state sponsorship of murder.

Many may believe that Espinosa deserved to die because he was a drug-addict bastard. But Du30 has a rather broad list of bastards he considers deserving of death. Who is to say who will land on that list?

Senators Antonio Trillanes, Panfilo Lacson, Grace Poe and Bam Aquino have opposed Du30’s plan, which would effectively transform the police into a private presidential force vested with impunity. They need the support of their colleagues in the government and of the public. #####

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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