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Thoughts on Extrajudicial Killings and Unexplained Disappearances

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 victims.

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 commanders;

  • 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?




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