The contrast between the Senate and the House of Representatives cannot be more stark than this. While the two houses are both investigating aspects of the illegal drug trade and the war on drugs, the Senate has focused its inquiry on the phenomenon of extrajudicial killings in the country, whereas the House for its part will address particularly the issue of alleged drug dealings by Sen. Leila de Lima in its probe, which begins today.
In a clear message to the Senate, the members of the House committee on public order and safety have decided to drop the use of the phrase “extrajudicial killings” in all its future hearings, investigations and reports, and will instead refer to them as “death under investigation,” as used by the Philippine National Police.
The committee, chaired by Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, approved the motion raised by House Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia, who questioned the use “extrajudicial killings” in the absence of capital punishment or death penalty in the country.
“I am really curious what the definition of extrajudicial killing is because extrajudicial would mean outside of the parameters of a judicial killing. But do we have such a thing as judicial killing in the Philippines? As far as I know, the last law that was passed that imposed the death penalty by lethal injection was Republic Act 8177. But this was repealed by RA 9346. And therefore right now, we don’t have the death penalty in the Philippines. How could we have such a thing as a judicial killing? And yet it is now so commonly used, that even in the Senate, there was an investigation conducted by the committee on justice as regards extrajudicial killing,” Garcia said.
The House committee has a point, but it is a summary decision of surpassing importance. It opens the door for the wholesale dismissal of charges and criticisms that many deaths engendered by the drug war have occurred outside due process and judicial proceeding.
If House legislators need a definition of extrajudicial killing, we urge them to consider the definition provided by the United States Torture Victim Protection Act, which defines it 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. Such term, however, does not include any such killing that, under international law, is lawfully carried out under the authority of a foreign nation.”
If the House means to say that no extrajudicial killings take place in the country, it would be grossly mistaken because the historical record clearly shows that killings of persons by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process do happen in our midst. Our system of due process, though sacred, is indisputably still imperfect.
If the House means to say that it will in future never probe the problem of extrajudicial killings, it would be tantamount to dereliction of duty – a deliberate refusal to look reality in the eye.
With one eye closed on the drug problem, the House inquiry will not see the problem in its entirety.