Last of two parts
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Task Force formed to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings is still collecting data from all the regions. But as of July 25, the regional offices of CHR in the National Capital Region (NCR), Region I (Ilocos Region), Region II (Cagayan Valley), Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and Region XII (Soccsksargen) are already investigating or reviewing at least 103 such cases.
The total includes 39 cases in NCR; 27 cases in Region I; 15 in Region II; 13 in the CAR; and nine in Region XII.
These numbers include cases where the suspect was killed in a police operation, or by an unidentified assailant.
Of the six regional CHR offices the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) called on July 22 and July 25, only NCR had a good number of walk-in complainants.
CAR, Region I, Region II, Region IV, and Region XII are mostly, if not only, working on motu proprio cases or cases that CHR has decided to pursue on its own.
Whether or not there is a complaint, the CHR is constitutionally mandated to “investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.”
In Region XII, CHR officer in charge Erlan Deluvio said they do not typically receive walk-ins because families of most rights victims are indigents. They wouldn’t have the money to spare for travel to visit their office, he said. All the nine cases CHR Region XII is investigating that are connected to the current administration’s war on drugs are motu proprio.
Most of the 13 similar cases under CHR CAR are also motu proprio investigations. According to CHR CAR Officer in Charge Romel Daguimol, people in Cordillera are not so inclined to pursue cases because it’s not in their culture to make complaints.
For Director Jacqueline de la Peña of CHR Region IV, personal complaints also depend on how determined the surviving kin is to seek redress from government.
Deluvio of CHR Region XII said they reach out to the victims’ families and motivate them to participate in the process. Not all would cooperate, however.
Some who might consider pursuing a case also change their minds because, Deluvio said, they are also easily intimidated by opposing parties.
It doesn’t also help when law enforcement is uncooperative. Police reports are part and parcel of any investigation, but CHR investigators find it hard to get such records in cases involving the police themselves. This would then mean the CHR would have to do more spadework, but like most government offices, this is a body operating on limited resources.
The good news is that starting in 2015, CHR has been getting more funds than what it had proposed in the annual budget. For the year 2016, it sought a budget of P428.5 million, but received P460 million.
Still, among the nation’s five constitutional agencies, CHR has the smallest number of staff. In 2015, it had positions open for 680 but only 526 were filled.
In Region IV, where the number of drug-related killings is on the high side, the CHR regional office has only seven investigators. These investigators cover Laguna, Batangas, Quezon and the whole of Region IV-A or Mimaropa.
No CHR charter
CHR Region IV director de la Peña said they were trying their best to respond to needs, but the influx of cases really makes the job harder. The passage of the CHR’s charter, which could pave the way for more resources and personnel, is crucial, she said.
The proposed CHR charter aims to strengthen the Commission’s investigative powers and expand its quasi-judicial powers that include preventive and legal measures such as the issuance of an injuction order, order to transfer persons and restraining order. But in the last several years, attempts to form this charter have failed in Congress.
Armamento said the drug-related killings has spurred CHR to coordinate with various law groups to help it in any way they can. Among these groups are the Free Legal Assistance Group, Mabini and the Philippine Association of Law Schools. CHR has also reached out to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Apart from additional funding, Armamento said the President could also help by stressing the importance of respect for law, human rights, and that no extrajudicial killing should take place during police operations.
“That will help a lot because police officers being part of the Executive branch will always obey the president,” she said.
Davao Death Squad
It is still too early to say what will become of CHR’s efforts to respond to the rise of killings of drug suspects. But the results of its investigation into the summary killings in Davao City some seven years ago could be an indication on what could happen next.
The CHR investigation in 2009 had been prompted by a growing concern, inside and outside the country, over the numerous dead bodies turning up across Davao City that time.
The Commission found “a systematic failure on the part of the local officials to conduct any meaningful investigation into said killings, thereby violating the State’s obligation to protect the rights of its citizens.”
CHR thus recommended the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate “the possible administrative and criminal liability of Mayor Duterte for his inaction in the face of evidence of numerous killings committed in Davao City and his toleration of the commission of those offenses.”
In March 2012, the Ombudsman found 21 police officers – but not Duterte – guilty of simple neglect of duty. The officers faced penalties ranging from one-month suspension to a fine equal to a month’s salary.
In May 2016, the sole witness in the Department of Justice’s subsequent investigation into the Davao Death Squad left the government’s witness protection program, putting a halt into the probe. In the same month, Duterte won the presidency.