Is the Philippine justice system really working? | Inquirer Opinion
LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Is the Philippine justice system really working?

/ 04:05 AM July 09, 2024

Is the acquittal of former senator Leila de Lima on illegal drug trafficking charges a sign that the Philippine judiciary is working properly? That’s the contention of President Marcos, who is citing the acquittal as proof that the International Criminal Court (ICC), now investigating extrajudicial killings (EJKs) arising from the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, need not intervene in the Philippine justice system.

But if what the President is saying is true, why did it take the judiciary six long years to decide on obviously politically motivated nuisance cases that are based on the self-serving testimonies of drug trafficking convicts? Justice delayed by six years is justice denied.

And if these cases had been filed against persons of much lower stature, which is the norm, would the accused have been acquitted at all, even if innocent? A good number of drug trafficking suspects with hardly any of the resources, connections, and support of a senator would willingly grab the chance to plead guilty to trumped-up drug trafficking charges if it would get them a shorter prison term. Where is the justice in that?

During a visit of United Nations Resident Coordinator to the Philippines Gustavo Gonzales on June 10, 2022, Mr. Marcos affirmed his commitment to “a high level of human rights accountability” and to upholding and protecting human rights in the country.

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Yet to this day, the Philippine government’s dismal human rights record remains far from encouraging. This is clearly seen in the way our justice system has so far responded to EJKs arising from former president Rodrigo Duterte’s notorious drug war.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and independent human rights organizations have estimated the total number of EJKs from the time of the Duterte administration up to now at more than 30,000. Attempts of the Philippine National Police to hide data and fudge the figures on EJKs, which it has pegged at 6,700, has prevented the CHR and other concerned organizations from arriving at a more exact figure.

But assuming the figure of 6,700 to be accurate, this still far outnumbers the actual cases filed in our justice system and the convictions arising from such cases. Since its creation in 2012 and up to 2019, a period of seven years, the Department of Justice’s special task force on EJKs had filed only 270 cases resulting in only 13 convictions. Of these cases, a total of 111 were archived and 89 remain under investigation.

The US State Department’s 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices provides an even more dismal picture. According to the reports, the Philippine government has carried out only three prosecutions resulting in three convictions since the start of the Duterte administration in 2016.

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How can the President make preposterous claims in the face of these facts? The picture that emerges is this: the Philippine justice system is so sick, so riddled with red tape, incompetence, corruption, and cruelty that it will require a major overhaul to make it respond effectively to EJKs and other human rights violations.

Barring the ICC from conducting its own investigation and prosecuting and convicting the principal perpetrators of EJKs makes Mr. Marcos subject to the suspicion that this is a political ploy to appease a former political ally, the Dutertes of his doomed UniTeam alliance. Is politics more important to Mr. Marcos than his publicly declared commitment to human rights accountability and the protection and promotion of human rights in the country?

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Daniel Agoncillo

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