In his first media conference since his recent appointment, presidential spokesman Harry Roque raised two important points that merit consideration in the national debate about extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the government’s war on illegal drugs.
First, he contended that there should be proof to back up the claims of opposition groups and government critics that EJKs and human rights violations are taking place in the country.
Without proof or evidence of violations, there will be no specific problem for the authorities to address or correct, and the process of finding and trying offenders cannot take place.
Second, in response to the healing rally staged last Sunday on EDSA as led by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Roque announced that Malacanang seeks to work together with the Catholic church in solving the drug epidemic in the country. He acknowledged that the accountability of the police and government officials must be established. “Accountability is essential to governance,” he said.
It is fair to ask the CBCP whether it believes or concedes that the country is facing today a very serious illegal-drug problem. Absent this recognition, there can be no common search for a solution.
Whether we are opponents or supporters of the government, we must agree at the minimum on this: standards of proof and accountability are essential to determine the commission of crimes and human rights violations in the drug war. Without facts, we cannot move forward.
Roque is also right to press for a working definition of what is an EJK. There is no definition of the concept on which everyone can agree.
He said that although our judiciary has a narrow definition of EJK, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is not at liberty to define the term as a police organization. It should expect to be challenged when it claims outright that EJKs do not exist in the country.
The President’s spokesman also cited the definition provided by the United Nations: “The UN follows the Minnesota protocol wherein every killing without due process is considered an EJK.”
For much of the international community, an extrajudicial killing is the killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or any legal process. If law enforcement forces commit a killing outside the authority of the court, it is an extrajudicial killing.
It follows from this that proof of an EJK cannot be established without investigation by our criminal justice system.
Many of the claims, allegations and charges about EJKs and human rights violations have happened without this process of investigation and factual validation. Most are largely claims and charges, in the wild hope that thereby the government could be induced to halt the drug war.
Roque is right that the calls of human rights advocates and the cries for justice are not enough.
This only shows that the main function of human rights groups today is to create noise or propaganda against the government.
The hard reality is that unless proof of violations is produced, the drug-related killings will not be stopped. Those responsible cannot be brought to trial and punished.
It is also a fact that President Duterte has repeatedly said as a matter of policy that he will not condone police officers who are found to be abusing their powers. There is an ongoing investigation of more than 2,000 deaths in the drug war.
We have a system of constitutional government in the country. There is rule of law in the archipelago.
President Duterte, for all his popularity, is not free to write on his own the rules in the war on drugs, or to order anyone to kill anyone. Everyone is accountable to the law.