The way social media “activists” are chattering about the supposed sudden surge of “extrajudicial killings” (EJKs) in recent weeks, you’d think that the Philippines has descended into an orgy of vigilantism under current President Rodrigo Duterte. The fact is, EJKs have long been a business-as-usual feature of Filipino-style “justice”.
Back in 2010, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued a damning report on the sorry state of human rights advocacy in Philippine government…
The Philippine National Police and government spokesmen have a habit of assuring the foreign community that the country is safe, in the face of travel advisories to the contrary issued by foreign governments.The human rights body said it has become ordinary for killings to be carried out by policemen, the military and the paramilitary forces working for them, and for killings to be perpetrated in broad daylight in crowded public places and in front of the victims’ families in their own homes.
That was back in November 2010 when then newly-ascended President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III was just short of five months in office. In retrospect, Aquino could, perhaps, be forgiven for copping that AHRC indictment on the Philippines’ human rights record. After all, five months in office will not likely have been enough time to crack down on the practice. Furthermore, it could be argued that it was a problem that had likely festered under the watch of his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and previous governments.
Interestingly enough, it was under Arroyo’s government that newly-minted Senator Leila De Lima served as chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR). So it is quite telling that the Philippines’ reputation as a den of muderous policemen and soldiers persisted well into 2010 when Aquino assumed power. Even more astounding, De Lima was then tapped to head the Justice Department as a Cabinet Secretary in Aquino’s government.
Despite all that, there seems to be scant evidence that President BS Aquino had actually taken strong measures to change anything. Indeed, one could actually judge Aquino’s commitment to eradicating the practice of EJKs on the basis of the snail-paced speed with which he acted on the massacre of Lumad tribal leaders allegedly perpetrated by elements of the Philippine police and army. In fact, “snail-paced” is putting it nicely. Aquino, it seems, did nothing…
BS Aquino was quick to absolve the military of responsibility for the atrocities. It is also interesting to note that the President’s rabid supporters are not appalled by the crimes committed against the Lumads the same way they are appalled by the crimes committed during the Martial Law years. Economist and media personality Solita “Winnie” Monsod even pins the blame on the leftist for the killings even before an investigation had started.
Just the same, where there’s smoke, there is fire. All the shrieks of “bloody murder” rippling across Philippine social media over the mounting body count of suspected “drug personalities” and other alleged crooks perhaps warrants a look. To be fair, much of the reports and body count “score cards” being put up by every other Netizen covering politics in the Philippines, at first glance, points to that glaring surge in these types of homicides. However, there are extreaneous variables that potentially cloud such a hasty conclusion.
For one thing, the body counts being “reported” on news media are dependent on data provided by other news reports. So one could argue the strong possibility that the general increased attention put by news outlets on reporting these incidents (rather than on actual absolute incident statistics from reliable sources-of-truth) may skew these body counts to the high side. Indeed, there is strong possibility of an across-the-board deliberate under-reporting of EJKs during Aquino’s watch thanks, in part, to the widely known cosy relationship corporate news media enjoyed with the Aquino government. The fact that the same news outlets now find themselves on Dutete’s bad side makes their “journalism” all but suspect today.
Second, no one amongst the folk maintaining “body count” scorecards actually possesses the authority to rule an incident as an EJK. Only the police enjoys jurisdiction over investigation and collection of relevant facts surrounding a homicide case, and only a Philippine court can rule with finality whether said homicide case is, in fact, an EJK on the basis of guilt established as part of due process.
Third, the Duterte government is only less than a month old. Recall that Aquino himself, six months into his term as President, disavowed himself of any accountability for EJKs happening under his young watch.
So, on the part of social media “activists”, three layers of variables cloud any effort to issue summary indictments on the Duterte government’s human rights track record: (1) the questionable nature of their data sources, (2) the unauthoritative nature of the means with which they classify these reported homicides; and (3) the small sample set thus far considering how early into Duterte’s admin judgement is being passed.
On top of that, there is also the faulty correlation of these incidents to the personalities involved. Before considering Duterte as the cause of this purported surge in EJKs, consider De Lima, first. Senator De Lima, alone, is the single biggest common denominator across the Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte governments. Her being in a position to lead a change in the Philippines’ Human Rights record encompasses eight years in the justice trade — first as PCHR head under Arroyo, then as Justice Department Secretary under Aquino, and, now, as a Philippine Senator.
If we just have to name one person who can be blamed for the continued prevalence of Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines, that person will most certainly be Leila De Lima.
[Photo courtesy Cebu Daily News.]