The cornerstone of presidential candidate and former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign is a promise to curb galloping national crime rates that have left Filipinos gripped by fear. According to Duterte, his presidential term will be “bloody”, presumably said blood spilt when he makes good on his promise to kill criminals.
How exactly is Duterte going to do it?
The law allows very narrow latitude for police officers to use lethal force against a civilian. According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Guidebook on Human Rights-Based Policing, “Lethal force should not be used except when strictly unavoidable in order to protect your life or the lives of others.” And even before an officer gets to the point where the option to use legal force becomes relevant, there is a bevy of procedures and guidelines that govern how he or she should approach a suspect even just for questioning.
It is likely that most, if not all, instances where a Duterte-style “kill” by a PNP officer may occur involve an arrest-without-warrant scenario. In such scenarios, the rule book stipulates that such an approach is legal (1) when the suspect “has committed, is actually committing, or attempting to commit an offense or crime in the presence of a police officer,” or (2) when “an offense or crime has just been committed and the police officer has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested had committed the said offense or crime.”
But even when in custody, a suspect then enjoys presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a Philippine court. This means, a police officer cannot make summary judgment and act on said judgment on the spot. In short, even if a crook is caught red-handed, Duterte’s police officers and agents cannot issue a guilty verdict and kill said crook on the basis of that verdict. The suspect becomes subject to due process.
How then can a police officer get around these legal roadblocks to killing crooks?
The only way shooting a crook can be justified is if said crook poses an imminent danger to the arresting or intervening officer or to other people. That said, it is quite easy for police officers to set-up an operation in a manner that will provoke crooks to resort to violence and undertake actions deemed physically-threatening to police officers. Then again, a dead crook has no way of proving that he or she was in the process of surrendering when shot at by the cops. A battered and bruised crook can be made out to have been “roughed up” by civilians before the police arrived. Many ways to skin a cat, for sure.
Who would believe crooks anyway? Indeed, the Philippines, to begin with, has a strong tradition of lynching and subjecting its people to the court of public opinion. Even top politicians and government officials have succumbed to a his-word-against-hers “trial” wherein the most authoritative or the loudest voicegets to be right.
In that sense, a police operation is no different to, say, a Philippine Senate “Inquiry”. In both cases, there is always a potential for the “suspect” to be tagged guilty even before he or she ever faces a judge in a real court. Former Chief Justice Renato Corona is an example. His career was killed not by a Philippine judge but by a mob of highly-“motivated” Philippine senators and a cadre of “cooperative” Filipino journalists.
Filipinos will likely relish the bloody slaughter of criminals under a Duterte presidencey much the same way they make bloodsports of the Senate “Inquiries” that are ratings bonanzas for the “news and public affairs” programs of big Philippine media networks. In both cases the Philippine judiciary plays no part, yet guilt and retribution abound nonetheless.
In that sense, a Duterte presidency will, indeed make good on its promise to kill criminals much the same way as President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III made good on his promise to impeach Corona. A popular lynching, after all, is, by all intents and purposes, legal in the Philippines.