Justice dep’t eyes new office focused on EJK cases

Mara Cepeda
Justice dep’t eyes new office focused on EJK cases

Alecs Ongcal

The Department of Justice gets a P2.051-billion boost in its proposed budget for 2017

MANILA, Philippines – Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre wants to create an office under the Department of Justice (DOJ) that would focus on cases involving extrajudicial killings. 

He said this would further improve the country’s conviction rate on summary killings, which rose from 1% in 2001 to 11% in 2015. 

“I was told that we have no permanent office for prosecution of these extralegal killings. So if we would provide an office for this particular purpose, then perhaps it will help,” Aguirre told congressmen during the DOJ’s budget briefing on Wednesday, August 31.  

“I believe extralegal killings should be especially guarded by the Department of Justice. Like, for example, what happened with the journalists in Maguindanao. A specialized office for this, I think, would help,” added Aguirre. 

The justice secretary was referring to the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in Maguindanao in 2009. The massacre was allegedly hatched by Andal Ampatuan Jr because Esmael Mangudadatu was running for governor against him. Ampatuan Jr wanted to succeed his father, who was then governor of the province and patriarch of the powerful clan. (READ: 6 updates on Maguindanao massacre’s 6th year)

The incident is considered by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the single deadliest attack against the media. (READ: Maguindanao massacre trial now in the homestretch – Chief Justice

There has also been a recent spike of apparent summary executions supposedly done in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing war against crime and illegal drugs. 

As of Wednesday morning, 900 suspected drug users and pushers were killed in police operations nationwide. But the deaths outside police operations, in what appears to be acts by vigilante groups, are higher in number – 1,160 – and the Philippine National Police is investigating them.

Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Jose Luis Martin Gaston has called the scale of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration as “unprecedented.” 

Budget insertion

Currently, the DOJ’s proposed P15.017 billion budget for 2017 does not have any allocations for a new EJK office. 

But Aguirre explained that the budget may be taken from the P100 million that they initially allocated for the construction of a DOJ Academy.

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Director Soledad Doloiras explained they removed this in the 2017 National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to the House of Representatives because the DOJ failed to submit some supporting documents for the school. 

She said lawmakers can appropriate funds under the DOJ for an EJK office through an insertion in the 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“All non-recurring expenditures were deleted in our submission of the budget, so if Congress feels that it is really needed, since the power of the purse is with Congress, then we can have another insertion in the 2017 budget,” said Doloiras.

She said lawmakers may also realign funds for the DOJ Academy as long as the agency completes all the required documents.

DOJ budget boost

The DOJ’s proposed budget for 2017 increased to P15.017 billion from P12.966 billion this year, up by P2.051 billion.

Office/Attached Agency 2016 GAA 2017 NEP
Office of the Secretary P4,562,000,000 P5,213,000,000
Bureau of Corrections P1,986,000,000 P2,168,000,000
Bureau of Imigration P840,000,000 P975,000,000
Land Registration Authority P947,000,000 P1,048,000,000
National Bureau of Investigation P1,219,000,000 P1,298,000,000
Office of the Government Corporate Counsel P94,000,000 P119,000,000
Office of the Solicitor General P601,000,000 P724,000,000
Parole and Probation Administration P628,000,000 P758,000,000
Presidential Commission on Good Government P101,000,000 P110,000,000
Public Attorney’s Office P1,988,000,000 P2,606,000,000
Total P12,966,000,000 15,017,000,000

In his budget message, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants the higher budget to boost the DOJ’s ability to prosecute cases and to sustain the free legal assistance given by the the Public Attorney’s Office to poor defendants.

The President also wants the money to help the National Bureau of Investigation in swiftly probing crimes and to streamline the processing of NBI clearances. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.