“Human rights for hire” published in the Sunday Times (Sept. 4, 2016)
We are Artikulo Tres Human Rights Alliance, Inc., a group of lawyers advocating human rights. We write in reaction to Mr. Carlo de Leon’s Commentary in the September 4, 2016 issue of the Sunday Times entitled “Human Rights For Hire.”
Currently there are 74 signatories and 168 parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”). The Philippines signed the ICCPR on December 19, 1966, but it was not until October 23, 1986 that the Philippines ratified it. Article 6 of the ICCPR provides, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
The quoted provision is clear. Surprisingly, it is the opinion of Mr. de Leon that those calling for respect of human rights are paid hacks.
We address Mr. de Leon’s statements in the Commentary in seriatim.
Mr. de Leon observed that “most Filipinos see this (drug-related killings) as the final solution to end the prevalence of drug trafficking, drug-addiction, all sorts of heinous crimes and their umbilical cord to corrupt politicians, government officials and members of the police, military, and the judiciary.” Without presenting any basis that most Filipinos, indeed, see the drug-related killings as a final solution, he recklessly jumped to such conclusion. Even granting for the sake of argument that most Filipinos have that view, such a sentiment must be corrected by a responsible government, lest we create a culture of violence among us Filipinos. Well-documented studies and experiences both locally and internationally show that the only effective and permanent solution to drug trafficking is through a comprehensive approach that involves strengthening of institutions and international cooperation.
According to Mr. de Leon, allegations of human rights violations against the government were magnified. Once again, he demonstrated recklessness in his assessment. On the contrary, the allegations of human rights violations by human rights supporters are factual and objective because the data used as bases by said supporters to measure the gravity of human rights violations came from the Philippines National Police (“PNP”) itself, or are at least acknowledged by it. In fact, the PNP has recognized that there is reason to be alarmed with the rising number of killing incidents. Moreover, the PNP chief himself justifies that such problem of mounting unresolved deaths is the price we pay for peace and order, that there will be mistakes and accidents in the war they wage against drugs. The blood of the innocent and damaged institutions are, thus, considered collateral damages by this administration.
Mr. de Leon described human rights supporters who began labeling each death as extrajudicial killing “excessively distorted in their intellectual bias.” He then recklessly discussed his accepted definition of extrajudicial killing, which according to him, was brilliantly clarified in a Senate hearing through a patient reading of Administrative Order No. 35 series of 2012 (“AO 35”). He quoted the law, obviously without diligently researching about it.
First of all, the definition of extralegal killing (“ELK”) or extrajudicial killing (“EJK”) is not found in AO 35 but in its operational guidelines (“Guidelines”).
Second, the definition of ELK or EJK under the Guidelines is by no means an attempt to generally define the terms. The last paragraph of the Guidelines explicitly limited the definition for purposes of the focused mandate of AO 35.
But Mr. de Leon conveniently, cunningly and perhaps maliciously deleted the phrase “For purposes of the focused mandate of AO No. 35” in quoting the Guidelines. Is this not an EJK or ELK of the text of the Guidelines?
For the Mr. de Leon’s’s information, “extrajudicial” means outside court or outside the functioning of the court system while “extralegal” means beyond the province of law. In Secretary of National Defense, et al. v. Manalo et al. (G.R. No. 180906, October 7, 2008) the Supreme Court defined ELK as killings committed without due process of law, i.e., without legal safeguards or judicial proceedings. In the U.S., EJK has been defined as “a deliberate killing not authorized by a previous judgement pronounced by a regular constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”
Mr. de Leon wondered why every death associated with police efforts in drug raids is labeled EJK and asked why the sudden change in terminology? The answer is quite simple. It is because of the thousands of cases of unresolved deaths, the circumstances of which are suspicious. After an objective reading of the official accounts of most of the killing incidents, one could not help but wonder why all of a sudden, all drug suspects were killed as they were fighting back with a caliber .38 pistol while carrying shabu contained in sachets. What a coincidence!
Still, Mr. de Leon recklessly accuses human rights supporters as “nothing but human rights for hire.” Funny, because they include international organizations and even the United Nations. In fact, US President Barack Obama emphasized, despite the threat hurled against him by President Duterte, that Mr. Duterte should conduct his war on drugs the right way so that innocent people will not get hurt and to avoid a bunch of unintended consequences that do not solve the problem. Could Mr. de Leon be recklessly insinuating that Mr. Obama is a paid hack too?
It is amazing how Mr. de Leon trivialized the phrase, “We the People,” when in fact he does not recognize the inviolability of human rights and due process. He applauds the rampant unresolved killings and calls it an “unbelievable feat”. He is irresponsibly selling his medieval approach in this war on drugs to the Filipino people that he has justified the taking of life without due process of law, while casualties involving the innocent considered mere collateral damage. Does Mr. de Leon have a fair understanding of the serious consequences and can be handle them?
There is no debating the fact that the drug menace in the country is pandemic. But it is preposterous for Mr. de Leon to say that he trembles in fear knowing that the drug menace has been around for decades. What else could his motive be in saying this but to sow or promote fear among the Filipino people? Mr. de Leon, there is nothing to fear at all as long as the police and the government authorities act within the bounds of law.
Now Mr. de Leon asked for one reason why Mr. Duterte’s method of war against drugs is not good? To be clear, the war must be waged against drugs indeed, but not through the methodology, which Mr. de Leon insists. All governments must proceed based on the rule of law and a guaranty of due process, which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. Yes, human rights are universal and such rights are available to everyone. This is precisely why the government must wage its war against drugs under the rule of law. We cannot afford to correct a mistake by committing another mistake, so they say.
In this regard, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that public confidence and security is founded on fair and impartial rule of law, while empowering police forces to kill suspected drug traffickers undermines justice. We take this opportunity to emphasize what the United Nations High Commissioner pointed out –that Filipinos have a right to a police force that serves justice.
Mr. de Leon’s penchant for exaggeration is insatiable by suggesting that other presidential candidates, “unusually mum” about the anti-drug problem platform, were involved with drug trafficking. A little circumspection form him is necessary to avoid spreading intrigue. There is nothing unusual about focusing on platforms during the election campaign.
In the end, Mr. de Leon finally revealed himself when he said: “The collective efforts of human rights-for-hire groups don’t seem to get any traction.” Unfortunately for him, it is just about traction and nothing about principles. For the supporters of human rights, however, it is all about principles and nothing about traction. Mr. de Leon probably got the traction he wanted out of his Commentary full of hyperboles and speciousness. But this is about principles. This is what we, Artikulo Tres Human Rights Alliance, Inc., stand for.
ARTIKULO TRES HUMAN RIGHTS ALLAINCE, INC.