This Christmas, as we gather with family and friends for the traditional feast on Christmas eve and Christmas day, I put it to my fellow citizens and colleagues that this is preeminently the time for candor about the drug war.
The distressing subject will turn up anyway – it’s now front and center in our lives. President Duterte is now like a family member to us all. And there are 6,000 dead compatriots, whom the nation must collectively mourn.
forgetfulness, many Filipinos have been deluded into thinking that all these deaths are necessary. And that there should be relief not regret because they are the wretched of our society.
Instead of lulling ourselves into a false optimism about the war, because it is Christmastime, I urge that we look this national ordeal in the face, calmly take stock of the situation, count our blessings if there are any, and count our worries, of which there are many.
It will not do to generalize and say: The drug war had to b e declared because the Philippines has been transformed into a narco-state by the illegal drug trade – and all the drug dealers, pushers and addicts who abet it.
This big claim requires substantiation by facts, lest it be a total lie. So also do we need confirmation that there are four million drug addicts in the country, as the President claims. The senate committees on justice and public order conducted hearings for over a month, but they forgot to even ask, how many?
Unrelenting and inescapable scrutiny
Candor also requires that we recognize a marked change in foreign perceptions and attitudes towards the drug war. Scrutiny is now unrelenting and inescapable.
Instead of issuing an apology as demanded by Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., the United Nations, through its human rights chief commissioner, has asked our judicial auhtorities to investigate President Duterte for murder after he claimed to have killed people in the past.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement issued in Geneva on Mondsy, that Philippine judicial authorities “must demonstrate their commitment to upholding the rule of law and their independence from the executive by launching a murder investigation,” adding it is “unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer.”
The President under our laws is immune from prosecution during his term, but he can be investigated.
In defense against UN criticism, Duterte has dared UN Special Rapporteur on summary killings Agnes Callamard to prove that he ordered security forces to execute drug suspects and criminals. He totally believes that like the existence of God, this cannot be proven.
DU30 has said repeatedly that the government is not involved in extrajudicial killings because Filipino policemen and soldiers will not comply with illegal orders.
“If you force them to commit that kind of (act) –they will mount a coup d’état, believe me, especially, and all of them – the officers, the non-commissioned and commissioned officers,” he said.
Then in an eccentric twist, the President challenged the lady to a debate on relevant issues.
Now the world will watch what our government will do to answer the UN demand for an investigation of our President for murder.
Cardboard justice and the rule of law
While there is administration confidence that Duterte can win a debate with the UN, candor requires us to note that he may not even win a debate with the best legal minds in the country. The drug war has too many holes; it will likely drown.
In an analysis written for TV 5 and read at a seminar for journalists last October, Atty Mel Sta. Maria of the FEU institute of Law discussed at length the drug war ‘s “cardboard justice” and the “rule of law.”
I quote his paper at length because of its cogent points and lucid arguments, some of which are:
1.“In the Philippines, death as punishment cannot be meted out by human beings on human beings. Republic Act No. 9346 prohibits the death penalty. This is the societal imperative all must observe. The legal command all must follow. No one is above the law. Not even the Supreme Court can order death as punishment; neither can the President. For the death penalty to be imposed, the law must be amended to allow it. But even if an amendment is done, the President still has no power to order the killing of people because only the judiciary can impose punishment. That is the rule of law in our country .
2.Any death sentence ordered by any other entity or person outside of the courts is extra-judicial. And if the order is carried out, it is EJK, short for extrajudicial-killing – the commission of murder no less.
3. Because EJK is a crime, every time President Duterte says “ I will kill you” or when he said, referring to 3,000,000 drug addicts, “ I’d be happy to slaughter them”, he, the head of state, conveys a deadly message discordant with the rule of law. Misinterpreted to their extreme, the declarations may be taken as words of encouragement, especially for people in authority like Philippine National Police (PNP) officers, to have the same motivation and objective. Put into action and ultimate fruition, it is EJK.
4. Regardless of the reason, President Duterte’s subsequent assurance that he will pardon law enforcers who kill suspected criminals involved in drugs conveys a message of impunity. He even said in a meeting with his law school batchmates in Malacañang that he will have many “pre-signed” forms for pardon which can be shown upon arraignment. And even if he stated that he will pardon only those who are wrongly accused, misinterpretations can happen with deadly consequences. Under our law, presidential pardon is only granted to guilty persons.
5. His declaration to the police that “if there is a resistance that would place your life in jeopardy, then by all means shoot and shoot him dead” may have emboldened rogue cops or vigilantes to commit EJK under the pretext or claim of “resistance.” If not abated, the result may be a systematic and widespread mass-killing.
6. Significantly, in almost all the news, the victims belong to the most vulnerable sector of our society: the poor. And this has led to the affirmation that rogue PNP officers victimize poor people – a bully’s typical attitude – or, simply, abuse of the powerful over the powerless. The situation is nearing not merely scary proportions, but a seriously appalling and alarming one.”
DU30’s debate with the people has begun
Sta. Maria ends his paper with the warning that many of our government’s actions in the dreug war are indictable before the International Criminal Court ( ICC).
The Philippines is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the international treaty creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), and therefore is bound by its mandate. Under the convention, persons who incite or commit crimes against humanity such as genocide and mass-killing may be haled to the ICC, prosecuted and punished.
I see little chance of the drug war winning the argument at my family’s Christmas table. Although many of my relatives supported candidate Duterte in the May election, many of us are more reflective about the situation now.
The SWS survey which says that 8 out of 10 Filipinos today worry about falling victim to the drug war is an eye opener. Disgust and opposition are rising across the land. The killings must stop.
President Duterte’s debate with the Filipino people about the drug war has begun.