AS human rights lawyers, we take strong exception to an item in the column of Mr. Yen Makabenta (“America faces deadliest drug crisis in its history. Why is the world not butting in?”, Manila Times, October 31, 2017) where he said: “What the opposition relies more on now is the noise that can be readily provided by human rights groups, that seek mainly to raise funds from donors.” This is a sweeping and unfair statement against all human rights groups.
We must emphasize that our human rights group, Artikulo Tres Human Rights Alliance, Inc. (Artikulo Tres), does not receive funds from donors, either local or foreign, for our advocacy. We carry on the tradition of human rights advocacy which began during martial law under the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc. (MABINI). It is an advocacy that has continued under several administrations after the 1986 EDSA Revolution. And so, through Artikulo Tres, we signed a memorandum of agreement with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to assist the latter by providing free legal services and counseling in cases involving human rights violations, and undertaking collaborative work in the advancement of human rights through research, education and information campaigns. Even prior to the signing of the memorandum of agreement with the CHR, we have been assisting them in the investigation of cases involving human rights violations and have filed cases connected thereto including a petition for writ of amparo that is currently pending with the Court of Appeals. That human rights groups are more vocal now merely attests to the grave situation of human rights in our country under the present administration.
Your columnist also wrote that the drug war “has become a convenient target of criticism and propaganda. It’s a sign of the superficiality of the criticism that international critics and agitators do not see the drug problem in the Philippines at all. They are fixated on the so-called extrajudicial killings (EJKs), which have not been documented.”
Again, we beg to disagree. We share the people’s concern over the drug problem. We recognize its gravity and call for the implementation of concrete measures to end the drug menace in a decisive manner. Yet the campaign on drugs, like all other government undertakings, must be in accordance with the Constitution and the rule of law.
Unfortunately, the war on drugs has been attended by rampant violations of human rights, (many of which were documented as Artikulo Tres has been directly involved in the investigation of several of them while the rest are shared by other human rights organizations). And this war targets primarily the poor. In the conduct of drug operations in poor communities, basic rights and freedoms accorded by the Constitution to all Filipinos, regardless of religion or economic standing, have been disregarded. Suspects are denied due process, the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel. In cases of drug killings, the most common explanation given by the police is that the suspects “fought back.” Yet in many cases, evidence points to the contrary. The suspects did not fight back, but were killed in cold blood.
The killings have reached scandalous proportions that no less than the President himself, having seen the videotape of Caloocan policemen dragging 17-year old Kian de los Santos moments before he was found dead, had to make a statement vowing to put these policemen behind bars if the incident is proven to be a rubout.
While such statement from the President, although belated, is nonetheless welcome, we are dismayed that the due process being accorded to the policemen were denied the victims.
ROMMELL D. LUMAGUI
Artikulo Tres Human Rights Alliance, Inc.