What makes Callamard ‘scary’?
On the day of Kian delos Santos’ interment at La Loma Cemetery, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said in a tweet: “My heart-felt condolences to #Kian family and to all families victimized by this cruel war.” The tweet carried the hashtags #Makehisdeaththelast and #Philippines.
Asked for his reaction to the Callamard tweet, President Duterte could have responded in several different ways. Perhaps he could not honestly commit to a war on drugs that did not result in casualties. But he could have reassured Callamard that his administration did not condone the extrajudicial killing of Kian and would take the necessary steps to avoid adding to the list of EJK victims.
He had already arrived at the same conclusion—emerging from surveillance cameras, the testimony of witnesses, the autopsy conducted by the Public Attorney’s Office—that the Filipino public and Callamard reached: Police operatives had murdered Kian. After seeing the CCTV footage, he reportedly called PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa to order the arrest and detention of the policemen involved.
In many of his public speeches, Mr. Duterte routinely repeats his standing orders to the police: In the performance of their lawful duties, they can kill suspects who offer violent resistance and he will defend them against potential charges of human rights violations. But the Kian killing prompted an explicit warning against going beyond the bounds of their mandate: “You are not allowed to kill a person who is kneeling down, begging for his life. That is murder.”
Kian was not the first EJK victim in the war on drugs. But his was the first EJK that Mr. Duterte has tacitly acknowledged. Accordingly, Mr. Duterte does not consider himself obliged to spare the killers from the legal consequences of their crime. The incident might also explain the candid confession: “I promised that I will do away with shabu. Now I know it won’t be fulfilled, that this really will not end.”
A response to Callamard based on his public response to the Kian case would have helped improve the government’s relations with UN human rights officials. Instead, Mr. Duterte reverted to what appears to be the presidential default option when confronting perceived criticism; he cursed Callamard and warned her not to “scare” (takutin) him. This allowed Callamard to take the moral high ground: “Kian and others like him deserve dignity and justice … our respect and empathy. Not expletives.”
A couple of earlier Callamard tweets perhaps explain why Mr. Duterte went ballistic. One claimed Kian was the “latest symbol of a massive, government-led, human rights crisis,” and the second said “all unlawful deaths must be investigated. To stop all murderers.” While the first was clearly critical, it would be difficult to disagree with the second, and it is not clear why the President should find either tweet scary or threatening.
Mr. Duterte also criticized the French legal system as based on the presumption that the accused is guilty and bears the burden of proving innocence. The French Embassy quickly responded, asserting that the presumption of innocence is “enshrined in the French Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of August 26, 1789,” and adding that “France strongly believes in the importance of the rule of law, due process, and respect for human rights in all countries, including the Philippines.” Unfortunately, the French correction will probably fail to reach most of the people who listened to Mr. Duterte and who will remain victims of fake news.
By speaking out against the Kian killing, meeting with the parents and giving assurances that justice will be served, Mr. Duterte has managed to temper the public outrage against EJK. But the immoderate reaction to Callamard raises questions about how differently the war on drugs will be waged. Will there be greater supervision and control of antidrug operations to prevent EJK? A faster pace to the investigation of drug war deaths, now that the Kian killing has prompted collaboration between the PNP and the Commission on Human Rights?
If these are genuinely new objectives in a war he insists must continue, Mr. Duterte will need the public’s assistance in monitoring its conduct, to avert more Kian killings or ensure that the killers are punished.
Edilberto C. de Jesus (edcdejesus@ gmail.com) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
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