Still no EJK accountability | Inquirer Opinion
EDITORIAL

Still no EJK accountability

/ 05:15 AM June 14, 2024

That sniggering dismissal by former president Rodrigo Duterte’s executive secretary Salvador Medialdea best sums up why majority of extrajudicial cases in the previous administration’s war on drugs, or up to 95 percent as claimed by a rights group, are hardly probed.

Medialdea had laughed off the prospect of the former president being summoned to the House human rights committee’s probe into the drug war, an overdue attempt to seek accountability in the government campaign that had resulted in some 6,000 deaths, as per official count. Duterte’s justice secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra had admitted to probing only 900 of the drug-related killings, with only 52 complaints eventually brought to trial and only three police officers found guilty in a single case.

“Why is that funny?” Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel asked of Medialdea’s reaction. “If they’re so proud of their own numbers that they killed 20,000 civilians in just two years, then why is it suddenly ludicrous for them to explain that?” added Manuel who, along with ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, had suggested that Duterte be invited for questioning by the House.

That the killings were “all just a joke to them” should not be tolerated, as correctly pointed out by Manuel, referring to state agents who had ignored and even normalized what amounted to summary executions, with suspects shot down without due process.

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‘Slow court system’

In its 84-page report, the lawyers’ group Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) Inc. noted that 95 percent, or 92 out of 97, of the alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) were either never investigated or were not followed up after routine initial inquiries.

In preparing its recently published study, “Pathways to Justice: A Public Report on Domestic Accountability,” the group spoke with members of 10 families who had lost their kin in the drug war and tried to seek accountability through various channels.

“The general consensus from victims and their families is that there are no genuine investigations, completed or ongoing, from the Philippine government and its agents,” indicated the IDEALS survey organized in partnership with the AJ Kalinga Foundation. The in-depth interviews with the victims’ relatives conducted from August to September 2023 in Metro Manila also found that the families see a government “lacking in sincere effort,” and that a “slow court system” hindered their quest for justice. Threats from state actors had also stopped them from pursuing their complaints, according to accounts documented by the nonprofit lawyers’ group.

Sense of impunity

While there was “some form of an investigation around the time of killing,” there were “barely any suspects, leads, witnesses, or actual evidence gathering … which could lead to criminal prosecution of the perpetrators,” the report added. “This puts into question the genuineness of the government’s intentions to investigate and prosecute incidents related to the campaign against illegal drugs,” IDEALS said.

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Indeed, while President Marcos has shifted the approach to the drug problem from punitive to rehabilitative, he has yet to address the criminal complaints from distressed families of drug war casualties despite pressure from rights groups here and abroad.

What the President does not seem to realize is that his efforts to present the country to the world as a rules-based democracy are effectively being torpedoed by the complacency and sense of impunity exhibited by former Duterte officials.

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Bargaining chip

Their arrogance to even consider accountability has eroded Mr. Marcos’ credibility and gives the lie to his assurance to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Philippines’ criminal justice system is “fully functioning,” the blanket rationale behind his administration’s refusal to allow the world body to investigate Duterte for EJKs and other crimes against humanity.

Shielding Duterte and the perpetrators behind the drug-related killings from prosecution may be a calculated move on Mr. Marcos’ part to use the ICC card as a bargaining chip in his fragile alliance with the former president. But to use aggrieved families as just another political platform with which to keep potential foes in line risks painting him as complicit in the crimes his administration has chosen to ignore at the moment. If, by coddling the parties who continue to elude the law, the President believes them to be innocent, shouldn’t he instead persuade them to prove their case and redeem their name before the country’s “fully functioning” courts?

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There’s no question that thousands had died ignominiously in the drug war of the previous administration, a grim episode that cannot be expunged, justified, nor studiously ignored. Only by exacting full accountability from those who had allowed it to happen and who continue to treat it as a joke, can such evil be laid to rest, never to be resurrected.

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