Senate panels to Duterte: Follow the law

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate panels that probed extrajudicial killings in the country has called on President Rodrigo Duterte to follow the law in his war on illegal drugs.

The Senate committees on justice and human rights and public order, chaired by Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson, respectively, filed their report on Wednesday, December 7, after 6 hearings.

While the panels concluded that the President has no hand in the rise of summary executions, they “cautioned” him to implement his campaign against illegal drugs within the bounds of the law, being the primary "role model" in the country.

"A word of caution to the President is warranted. He should seek to epitomize a man of the law, and be an exemplary role model. All Presidents must be role models in word and in deed. Leaders raise the values and performance of a people," the report said.

Citing the doctrine of command responsibility, the report said Duterte has an obligation to prevent the commission of illegal acts and to punish perpetrators.

“The war against illegal drugs must be won within the legal system, and the President must lead in reminding the people of this important message,” it said.

“Serving the nation entails doing justice to every man, even if he is a drug pusher or a drug lord,” it added.

Punish erring cops

The panels urged Duterte, who has vowed to protect the police, to make authorities accountable for their actions. After all, the report said, the President took an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution.

The report urged the President to “not just account for the misdeeds of police but also raise their standards of accountability so that they become paragons of protectors of the people.”

“When the police violate the law, they must be punished,” said the report, which was partially released to the media at a time Duterte declared he would not allow police involved in the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa to go to jail.

The report also pointed out how Duterte’s strong rhetoric and "colorful" language might have given the public the impression that he is “tolerating” the killings because of his “overwhelming” support for the police.

“While the people recognize his fearless naming of generals and prominent personalities, including politicians and judges, as protectors of drug lords, due process must still be observed. The accused deserve their day in court to prove their innocence,” the report said.

“Children listen to him. He both has a local and an international audience who scrutinize his every move. He will all the more maintain the trust of the people when he transforms into a leader worthy of emulation, in every sense of the word.”

It "admonished" the police and other authorities for urging surrenderees to sign "voluntary surrender certificates," which Gordon said violates their constitutional rights. (READ: Draft Senate report on killings: Oplan TokHang unconstitutional)

No link to killings

The report reiterated what Gordon, who identifies himself as an independent senator, had been saying all along: no sufficient evidence to link the President to killings and no proof that the alleged vigilante group Davao Death Squad exists.

“None of the witnesses were able to sufficiently prove that there is State-sponsored policy or order from the current administration to commit extrajudicial killings or summary killings to eradicate illegal drugs or even other crimes in the country,” the executive summary of the report said.

It added that the “excessive and unabated” killings are not unique to the Duterte administration, as they have been going on for the past two decades. These executions, the report said, were then classified under different names – “cardboard justice”, riding-in-tandem, and “salvaging,” among others.

The alleged inconsistencies of key witness Edgar Matobato, who accused Duterte of ordering killings when he was Davao City mayor, were also pointed out.

The report added Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV invited their own witnesses from the Davao police yet still failed to give “sufficient evidence.”

“The witnesses invited by Senator De Lima and Senator Trillanes, specifically Mr Edgar Matobato and the Davao police identified as alleged members of a Davao Death Squad, were not able to present sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a Davao Death Squad, or that then Mayor Duterte was responsible for those deaths purportedly committed by a Davao Death Squad,” it said.

‘Twisted logic’

The report did not sit well with Trillanes and De Lima, two of Duterte’s fiercest critics. Both cried foul that they were allegedly not given a copy of the document.

De Lima said she is set to file a separate report on the issue. The senator was the one who launched and led the probe until she was ousted as committee chairperson for allegedly being "biased" against the President.

“I would definitely be filing a separate report, either purely dissenting or both concurring and dissenting – concurring in certain parts and dissetning on certain parts,” she said on Wednesday.

Trillanes, for his part, slammed Gordon’s “twisted logic,” accusing him of being a “Duterte collaborator."

“Alam 'nyo iyang si Senator Gordon ipinakita lang niya isa siyang Duterte collaborator. Ang tanging layunin ay pagtakpan 'yung pinaggagagawa ng political master....Ngayon consistent siya sa adbokasiya niya na tagalinis ng political masters,” Trillanes said, adding Gordon has been a "collaborator" since the time of former president, now Pampanga 2nd District Representative, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

(You know Senator Gordon only showed that he is a Duterte collaborator. His only goal is to cover up the actions of his political master. Now, he's consistent with his advocacy to clean up after his political masters.)

Gordon served as Arroyo's tourism secretary before he won a seat in the Senate.

"Many pieces of evidence were presented. He immediately closed the hearings and gave this conclusion that President Duterte has no hand in the killings. How about the 6,000 people who died? Who did that?" said Trillanes. (READ: IN NUMBERS: The war on drugs– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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