Department of Justice

DOJ’s EJK panel poised to get fresh P10.9-million budget

Lian Buan
DOJ’s EJK panel poised to get fresh P10.9-million budget

THE DOJ. File photo of the gate of the Department of Justice in Padre Faura with red ribbons from protesters.

Inoue Jaena/Rappler

Rights group Karapatan is not satisfied with the panel's work, saying it 'has yet to show any significant progress' for the panel's two most high profile cases – the murders of Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez

The Department of Justice or DOJ’s Administrative Order 35 (AO 35) panel dedicated to solving extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and other politically-motivated killings is poised to get a fresh P10.9-million budget for 2022.

The 2022 National Expenditure Program (NEP) shows that implementation of AO 35 will get P10.907 million next year, if Congress retains that allocation, that is. It forms part of the DOJ’s P7.49-billion proposed budget for 2022.

In 2017, AO35 had a budget of P32.9 million; in 2018, it was down to P11.42 million; in 2019, it had P10.78 million; in 2020, it had P10.7 million; and for the current year it is operating on a P10.9 million budget.

All cases of killings are given due course, or at least that’s what the government says, and cases like these regularly fall upon the shoulders of either the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or the National Prosecution Service (NPS), both of which have their own allocations worth billions of pesos.

The AO 35 panel, with its own budget, is supposed to act as a special committee, and it had promised before that it would come out with a report on patterns and hot spots, to attempt to prevent EJKs. It has not done so yet.

Rights group Karapatan is also not satisfied with the panel’s work, saying the panel “has yet to show any significant progress” for their two most high profile cases – the murders of Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez.

“One year after he was killed, the announced investigation by the Task Force on Administrative Order 35 has yet to show any significant progress towards determination and arrests of suspects,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement on August 10, the one-year anniversary of Echanis’ murder.

The AO 35 panel is also handling the cases of the Bloody Sunday killings, or the nine activists killed in Calabarzon last March during the execution of search warrants by the police.

As of last update in July, the group Defend Southern Tagalog said the farthest step the AO 35 panel has taken, so far, in the Bloody Sunday cases was a crime scene ocular for only one of the nine victims. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said then that it was a problem of “extreme difficulty of accessing the place of the incidents.”

Since its creation in 2012 to the government’s last update in 2019, the AO 35 panel’s performance has been found to be wanting, with only 13 convictions to show out of 385 cases it has handled in that time fame. Of those, 127 perpetrators have been cleared.

Guevarra, Undersecretary Adrian Sugay, assigned to AO 35, and Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay Villar, the DOJ’s spokesperson – all did not respond to Rappler’s request for comment on this story.

The 2020 audit report of the DOJ showed the department did not utilize P266 million out of its total P8.5-billion allotment for that year. Guevarra earlier said it “was caused mainly by delays in the procurement process occasioned by the series of community quarantines.”

“Nevertheless, the DOJ is presently maximizing the utilization of allotments by speeding up the implementation of projects planned for the rest of the year, and cascading available resources to its regional prosecution and other allied offices,” Guevarra had said about the audit finding.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.