The new presidential spokesman Harry Roque cleared the air on the matter of “extra-judicial killings” (EJK) when he acknowledged in a radio interview last Sunday that there may have been EJKs and human rights violations in the country. But there has to be proof in each case, he said.
We thus move forward one step from the claim of the Philippine National Police (PNP) that there is “officially no case” of extra-judicial killing under the administration of President Duterte, because it insists on a definition made by an old executive order issued by former President Benigno S. Aquino III that an EJK is a killing committed by state and non-state forces “to silence, through violence and intimidation, legitimate dissent and opposition raised by members of civil society, cause-oriented groups, political movements, people’s and non-government organizations, and by ordinary citizens.”
The PNP acknowledged that at least 3,850 drug suspects had been killed in police anti-drug operations and at least 2,290 had been killed for drug-related motives, mostly by unidentified assailants.” This would include 17-year-old Kian de los Santos who was killed by Caloocan police who claimed he fought back when CCTV cameras showed him already under their custody and well under their control.
Secretary of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre picked up this old EJK definition and so he said the existing Inter-Agency Committee on EJKs would not investigate the recent killings of drug suspects. Former presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government is confined to this definition. He assured, however, that regardless of the legal definition, the government is out to ensure accountability of the perpetrators and called on witnesses and other individuals with evidence to come forward.
Last Sunday, new presidential spokesman Roque acknowledged that under the United Nations’ so-called Minnesota Protocol, all killings outside of due process are deemed extra-judicial killings. This is a much-welcome step forward for the government. Whereas Secretary Aguirre would not have the Inter-Agency Committee on EJKs touch the thousands of cases in the police drug raids, we now have great expectations that the government will look into this matter.
Significantly, the Minnesota Protocol calls for investigations of all “potentially unlawful death, primarily including deaths caused by acts of omissions of the state, its organs, or agents; deaths occurring when a person is detained by or is in custody of the state or its agents; and death where the state may have failed to meet its obligations to protect life.
But there has to be proof before they are called EJKs, Roque said. Of course, there has to be proof. “If there is evidence that they violated the law and committed murder, they need to be tried,” he added. “But if it’s true that the person fought back, then we need to acknowledge the police. Because there are really cases where the drug suspects fought back.”
It may take sometime before the thousands of killings already listed by the police can be probed. But at least there will now be an official effort to look into them as possible extra-judicial killings, instead of the previous official stand that there is not one EJK under the present administration.