Ranking 69 countries, the 2017 Global Impunity Index (GII) gave us first place. This suggests that if you are a criminal, you are safest practicing your occupation in the Philippines. You would be less likely to be arrested; if arrested, prosecuted; if prosecuted, convicted; if convicted, punished. If you had the lofty connections of, say, a senator or a president, you can, after sentencing, hope for pardon.
To be fair, the Duterte administration cannot take sole credit for this dubious distinction. Impunity has plagued us for decades, leading many to favor tough action against suspected criminals and, up to a point, to excuse police violations of due process. The backlash against EJK shows this point may have already been reached. A law-and-order president should want the GII image of the Philippines corrected.
Addressing impunity requires interrogating two factors affecting the framework of security, justice and human rights. First, has the state invested resources to provide enough policemen and jails, judges and courtrooms, and human rights monitors to ensure the rule of law? Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Director Serafin Barretto said the jail congestion rate of 558 percent was the world’s highest in 2015, beating Haiti’s 454 percent.
Looking at the number of judges against population, GII figures showed a global average of one judge overseeing 6,250 people. In Croatia, the least afflicted by impunity, the ratio was 1:2,200 and in Mexico, 1:23,800. The ratio of Philippine lower court judges to population in 2006-2009 was over 1:60,000.
In 2017, the Philippines maintained one police officer for 650, against the global average of 1:315. Mexico surpassed this average number with 280 people for each police officer. But Mexico’s fourth-place finish in the 2017 GII drives home the centrality of the second factor affecting impunity: the operational effectiveness of the security and justice systems. Do the people running these systems possess the requisite knowledge, skills, and values? Consider Caloocan.
Raising the number of police officers and judges to a minimum level is necessary, but not sufficient, to avert the problem of impunity. Law enforcers must also have the necessary qualifications for the job and follow the rule of law in their application. Monitoring their respect for human rights is thus a necessary measure to ensure the proper functioning of the security and justice systems.
The Duterte administration inherited deeply flawed systems—and made problems worse in three ways. It launched the war on drugs without serious planning for the issues of detention and rehabilitation. The BJMP predicts drug arrests this year to approach 200,000. In the urban areas, drug suspects make up 75-80 percent of prison inmates. Will a prison sentence in overcrowded jails, at the 2012 budget cost of P19,345 per prisoner—higher than the P15,000 conditional cash transfer family subsidy—contribute to the rehabilitation of drug addicts?
Second, opinion surveys reflect a widespread concern that a large number of crimes concealed by impunity are now committed by state agents. Consider Caloocan and the killing of Korean Jee Ick-joo in Camp Crame. Senators have recognized that EJK does happen and thousands of “under-investigation” cases remain unresolved. Even more alarming, the President has encouraged, by word and deed, the belief that constitutional guarantees of human rights and due process will not deter the war on drugs. Consider Caloocan and the downgrading of the charges against the 19 killers of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa.
Third, resource constraints that systemically impede the delivery of justice politicize and aggravate the issue of implementation. On the corruption cases, the protest is not that those charged are innocent, but that equally guilty parties have not been prosecuted. If we cannot simultaneously prosecute all “big fish” criminals, do we abandon convicting those we can?
Mr. Duterte gallantly insists that ladies should go first; he should be investigated for hidden wealth only after the investigation of the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman. The ladies have declared their willingness to undergo investigation. Mr. Duterte has rejected investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman. In rejecting constitutional processes to check abuse of power, he gives further substance to the GII judgment giving the Philippines the global prize for tolerating impunity.
Edilberto C. de Jesus (edcdejesus@ gmail.com) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.