by: PJ Ruben T. Reyes and J. Mariano C. Del Castillo
Sadly, the Philippines in the eyes of the international community has a very
poor human rights record due to its alarming incidence of
extrajudicial killings and unexplained disappearances/abductions of
private individuals without anyone being held accountable. And now,
various sectors of the society are prodded to seek for viable
solutions to address the poor human rights problems of the country.
We sincerely believe that the root of the problem is not really much on
the laws related to curbing and punishing human rights violators.
Actually, it has always been the implementation of these laws. As
part of the judicial institution whose power is drawn from the pen,
we are here to present some issues to be mulled over.
1. There is a need for a clear-cut definition of what ‘extrajudicial
killing’ is, for homicide and murder are ‘extrajudicial
killings’ too. The name is a misnomer since every killing,
outside of the death penalty, is extrajudicial. Shouldn’t the
crime be called a ‘political killing’ instead? When will
a case fall under ‘extrajudicial killings’ in order that
the special court can assume jurisdiction? Thus, the motive must be
determined during investigation. This is relevant in the light of
the existence of special courts to handle such cases. A categorical
definition would pinpoint who are to be held liable and who are the
An international NGO observed that such ‘extrajudicial killings’
in the Philippines show a common pattern:
- “Surveillance and threats to the victims presumptively by officers;
- Finding their names in an “Order of Battle” by military
- Victim has an affiliation with lawful activist or leftist movements and
political parties (including labor, journalism, women, peasants,
environmental and other sectors);
- Assassination (often in front of the families and friends) by hooded persons often
driving motorbikes or unlicensed vehicles;
- Scant investigation;
- Witness intimidation and sometimes witness murder.”
The above traits, however, may also be present in killings made by
groups like the Abu Sayaff, MILF, or even political opponents. How
then do we distinguish these crimes, especially in determining
jurisdiction of special courts?
2. The investigation, evidence-gathering, and the witness protection
program of the State must be strengthened. A speedy and full
investigation on the part of the police must be done. Also, the
witnesses to these human rights crimes must be encouraged to testify,
for they will have to go up against the police and the military.
They must be assured that they will be protected during the
investigation and the trial proceedings.
3. The possibility of putting up a multisectoral agency composed of
representatives from the NGOs, civil society, military, police,
church, media, and the judiciary. Such will focus solely on
investigating such human rights crimes and serve as prosecutor. And
this agency can report its findings to the court handling the case.
4. The need to educate and orient the police and military thru seminars
about our laws on human rights, reminding them that the country is a
civilian society and that the rights of the people to association,
to privacy, to liberty, and to life, must be protected at all times.
The police and military should act within the bounds of law and not
attack indiscriminately whom they call ‘insurgents.’
5. The judiciary will have to bring back the confidence of the people in
it by speedily disposing cases involving human rights violations,
holding the perpetrators fully accountable to the crimes.
Incidentally, another thing to consider is this: If one is merely
acting under the orders of a ‘superior,’ will the former
be exculpated or will there be a solidary liability as principals?
We hope that this summit will not turn out to be just rhetoric. The
judiciary for sure is facing another challenge and expresses its
cooperation to address the problem. The bottom line is actually the
political will — Are we ready to prosecute the top guns behind
these human rights crimes?