Pardon for the Albuera 19?
Two events last week raised extrajudicial killing (EJK) as an urgent concern for our political leaders and the public. No April Fool’s joke.
On March 27, PNP Director General “Bato” dela Rosa launched his personal drive to “disprove” claims of 7,000 EJKs. On March 29 in Oriental Mindoro, Du30 said he would advise the policemen charged with the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa to plead guilty, and then grant them absolute pardon.
The government has tried various ways to counter claims about EJKs in the country. One attempt was to redefine it away. Assistant Interior Secretary Epimaco Densing III argued that, without a death penalty, there is no judicial killing: “If a country has no judicial killing, there’s no extrajudicial killing.” Another approach was to decline the search for evidence of its existence
Whistle-blowers Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas offered testimony on EJKs based on personal knowledge, under oath and against self-interest. Detecting mistakes in details, the Senate inquiry dismissed Matobato’s veracity; EJK victims, for instance, were wrapped in “packaging,” and not “masking,” tape, as he had claimed. But masking tape was the common generic term in the region, the way Colgate once stood for toothpaste.
Senators deemed Lascañas untrustworthy. He had fooled them once in denying that “death squads” operated in Davao; they refused to be fooled a second time. As appropriate reflection for Holy Week, one wonders if our bible-thumpers in the Senate would disqualify Peter as a witness because he thrice lied knowing Christ.
Dela Rosa took a slightly different tack. That over 7,000 killings have taken place under Du30’s watch was not really in dispute. The controversy was over the classification of these killings. Which ones were EJK?
From Dela Rosa’s perspective, none of them. At a Camp Crame briefing, he asked the media to “forget about EJK, don’t use that term,” challenging them to cite any instance when the PNP used it. For him, EJK meant “state-sponsored killing.” But a meaningful response to EJK allegations must take the term as it is generally understood.
The essential element of EJK is not state-sponsorship but the participation of state security forces or their agents in the killing of any person without sanction of a judicial or legal process. Rogue police can commit EJK. Both Dela Rosa and Du30 have publicly denounced widespread police corruption that required the suspension of “Tokhang” operations.
To assert that the government has not ordered, has opposed and has punished EJK is not sufficient. International law binds states to “take effective action to prevent, combat and eliminate [EJK] … in all its forms and manifestations.”
As Dela Rosa intended, the criterion of state sponsorship for EJK sets a high bar for proof. But Du30 has undermined his intent by intervening in the case that comes closest to meeting the standard: the killing of Albuera Mayor Espinosa. In the dark of dawn, avoiding security cameras and keeping eyewitnesses at bay, 19 police agents, including high-ranking officers, killed Espinosa in his jail cell. A confessed drug criminal and father of a drug lord, Espinosa had surrendered to Dela Rosa, believing that he would be safe in prison.
The NBI and several senators concluded that Espinosa’s death was a “rubout.” No official, written order for the Espinosa killing has yet surfaced. But the careful planning and the involvement of so many PNP and state agents give the case the odor of a premeditated state operation. Du30’s insistence from the beginning that the killing was justified and that he would give them absolute pardon may supply the final stamp of state sponsorship of murder.
Many may believe that Espinosa deserved to die because he was a drug-addict bastard. But Du30 has a rather broad list of bastards he considers deserving of death. Who is to say who will land on that list?
Senators Antonio Trillanes, Panfilo Lacson, Grace Poe and Bam Aquino have opposed Du30’s plan, which would effectively transform the police into a private presidential force vested with impunity. They need the support of their colleagues in the government and of the public.
Edilberto C. de Jesus (firstname.lastname@example.org) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management. Prof. Rofel Brion’s Tagalog translation of this column and others earlier published, together with other commentaries, are in http://secondthoughts.ph.
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