A petition recently made the rounds online seeking support for the impeachment of Leila de Lima. The former justice secretary and newly elected senator has earned the ire of some quarters for her call to hold Senate hearings on the spike in extrajudicial killings that has occurred since President Duterte launched his promised war against crime and illegal drugs. Badly worded and often incoherent, the petition said De Lima deserves to be yanked out of the Senate because, allegedly in her time at the Department of Justice, she protected drug syndicates and is now bent on subverting the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs. It was rubbish—De Lima is not an impeachable official, first of all—but before the petition was recalled by its author, it had managed to gather nearly 6,000 signatures.
Unfortunately, the petitioners’ vehement reaction to any prospect of oversight or scrutiny of the deployment of police action in this campaign is shared by the Duterte administration itself. Solicitor General Jose Calida and Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa have played tag team in leading the pushback against De Lima’s call for an inquiry. There is “no need for investigation in aid of legislation” because there are already “too many laws,” Calida said. And De Lima herself was allegedly delinquent as DOJ chief: “What did she do as justice secretary in charge of the NBI, the prosecution service, and the correctional?”
De la Rosa made the incendiary charge that the PNP is being “legally harassed” by De Lima. He then rallied the police to resist being “intimidated,” using fighting words: “Walang atrasan ito. Sulong! … Marami na po, libu-libo na po, ang nagsu-surrender. Marami na po ang namamatay, so ano pa, hihinto tayo?” (There’s no turning back. Forward! … Thousands have surrendered, many have died. Why should we stop now?)
But why is the administration seemingly deathly afraid of a congressional inquiry? (Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat has also sought a House investigation of the killings.) The President himself has promised that his administration would be a model of openness and transparency. The freedom of information bill may have continued to languish in Congress, but his administration would take the radical step of issuing an executive order implementing FOI in Malacañang, the various departments, and even government-owned and -controlled corporations. The EO was to have been issued Friday last week; it remains pending but the public is holding out hope for a new era of open-records governance, based on Mr. Duterte’s vow.
The resistance to a congressional inquiry on the growing body count related to the police campaign against illegal drugs and crime runs counter to that principle. It goes against the administration’s professed adherence to doing things with transparency—and on a subject of grave import, involving as it does the lives of possibly thousands of ordinary Filipino citizens.
The number of deaths tallied by this paper is already 136, in only 11 days of the new administration. The Commission on Human Rights says the true number may be higher since not all cases are reported. But, on average, the killings now amount to 10 suspects a day, with about 90 percent of them coming from low-income families. The police reports of those killed under their watch generally describe the victims as having been put down because they resisted arrest, often by grabbing the gun of an arresting officer.
These deaths, on top of the vigilante killings that have resulted in trussed corpses emblazoned with warning signs now regularly appearing on the streets, have provoked even a group such as the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, which backs Mr. Duterte’s tough stand, to express concern about the possibility of police abuse. The global watchdog Human Rights Watch, along with a number of local civic groups, has also joined the call for an investigation into police methods and protocols in light of the escalating body count.
Asked about the summary killings that some Duterte supporters say is the handiwork of the drug syndicates themselves, De la Rosa said the PNP is unable to determine for sure—but will not stop the perpetrators: “Kung gusto man nilang gawin, gawin na lang nila” (If they want to, they can go ahead). Vigilante killing remains a crime under the law, so the decision of the country’s top cop to look away and abdicate his duty deserves, at the very least, some answers.
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