“No one can take the law into their own hands. Even the highest official of the land must uphold the Constitution.”
Commission on Human Rights Chairman Jose Luis “Chito” Gascon emphasized this point on Thursday as he as well as human-rights advocates expressed deep concern over revelations made recently by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that he had a hand in killing crime suspects in his city.
The tough-talking mayor who gained prominence for his hardline stand against criminality boasted he killed 1,700 people during his reign as Davao City’s mayor.
The 70-year-old had also served the city as congressman and vice mayor between his terms as mayor.
Duterte has filed a certificate of candidacy (COC) for President as a substitute candidate of PDP-Laban.
Interviewed by ABS-CBN television to mark International Human Rights Day, Gascon said Duterte should not take the law into his own hands as no less than the Constitution grants crime suspects the right to due process.
“As we know, public officers, when they take their oath of office, promise to uphold the Constitution and the law of the land. So, no one can take the law into their own hands. Even the highest official of the land must uphold the Constitution,” he added.
Duterte, a government prosecutor before he ventured into politics, on Tuesday boldly narrated how he got involved in a police operation, which led to the killing of at least three kidnap-for-ransom suspects.
He justified the killing, saying a crime was being committed in his presence and as the city’s mayor, he was the person in authority.
Gascon said Duterte’s revelations should be investigated.
“We think that claims of a crime having been committed, even if it is against lawless elements or criminals, must be held to account [and]must be investigated. Because we are, after all, a society of rule of law, not of men,” he added.
Gascon said abuse of authority by any person, including the President, is inexcusable.
“History shows that the Filipino people has stood up [for]their rights. We need to assert that we are building a society of law and that abuse of authority must be dealt with regardless of who is in power,” he added.
Human-rights advocates have also expressed alarm over Duterte’s stand on extra-judicial killings.
“What we’re getting actually is an atmosphere [creeping on]impunity,” Max de Mesa of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates said.
De Mesa added that Duterte’s admission of having killed some criminals is a big challenge to the human-right advocates.
The Davao City mayor has also vowed that if he became President, he would move for the return of the death penalty for heinous crimes.
De Mesa said the demeanor of Duterte is not fit for someone eyeing the presidency.
“When Mr. Duterte admitted that that he had killed people himself, actually raising the number he killed from 700 to 1,700, it is a challenge to those who [believe in]due process,” he added.
Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Karina Dumpit said they would ask all candidates to make a commitment to upholding human rights apart from their campaign platforms.
Name slain criminals
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Duterte should reveal the identities of the criminals he had allegedly killed.
“I am wondering when does the braggadocio end and when does reality start. Everybody can just say anything,” Belmonte told reporters.
Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez, campaign spokesman for Liberal Party standard -bearer Manuel Roxas 2nd, echoed the Speaker’s call.
“The problem here is that he always says he has killed a lot [of criminals]. That he has killed not 700, but 1,700. But the question is, did he ever name these people? Tell us about where this happened, or when did he kill this people? If he is really the brave one and if he is proud of what he did, then he should tell us about these people that he killed,” Gutierrez said.
“As long as he is yet to name names and tell us where and when this happened, then all his talk about this are just stories. Everybody can claim anything. I can say I was the one who killed Rizal, and you can’t put me in jail just because I said that. Stories are different from facts,” he added.
Gutierrez argued that presidential elections are not about choosing a candidate who has killed the most number of people but electing a candidate based on platform of governance, including improving the judicial system.
“It is baffling that someone who is seeking the presidency is running on the platform that he is a killer, and that his main claim to fame is killing 1,700 people,” he said.