Senate ends probe: Neither Duterte nor state sponsored killings

MANILA, Philippines – After 6 hearings on the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country linked to the new administration's war on drugs, the Senate committee on justice and human rights terminated its probe with the conclusion that neither President Rodrigo Duterte nor the state ordered the killings.

Asked if he found enough proof that Duterte ordered the killings allegedly committed by the Davao Death Squad, commitee chair Senator Richard Gordon, said: “Definitely not.”

Gordon also said the reported summary executions are not state-sponsored despite the government’s intensified fight against crimes and illegal drugs.

“Pinalalabas ni Senator de Lima na state-sponsored pero in the face of it, wala akong nakikita (Senator de Lima is trying to show that this is state-sponsored but in the face of it, I can't see this), Gordon told reporters after the hearing.

He alleged that it was Senator Leila de Lima, the President’s fiercest critic, who was trying to make it seem that Duterte was responsible for the rising number of killings since he assumed the presidency. Gordon noted that De Lima and Duterte have long been at odds over the issue of human rights.

“There is really an effort to try to pin down Mayor or President Duterte. For all we know, guilty or not si President Duterte (whether President Duterte is guilty or not), there was an effort. There’s obviously an antecedent. Nagkagalit sila, nag-aaway sila kasi nagalit nga noong 2014 noong inimbestigahan ni De Lima. Mukhang ngayon siya naman itong tinutugis,” the senator said.

(They had some differences, they were fighting because of De Lima's investigation [of Duterte] in 2014. It looks like he is the one being targeted now [by De Lima].)

De Lima had claimed the opposite – that Duterte is driven by his personal vendetta against the lady senator in alleging her involvement in illegal drugs. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima)

When De Lima chaired the Commission on Human Rights during the Arroyo administration and Duterte was Davao City mayor, De Lima launched a probe into the alleged summary executions of crime suspects carried out by the Davao Death Squad reportedly controlled by Duterte.

De Lima pursued the probe when she served as justice secretary of the Aquino administration. When she became senator, she drew the ire of Duterte anew when she initiated the Senate investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings under Duterte. 

During the Senate hearing witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman of the Davao Death Squad, had accused Duterte of ordering killings when he was still Davao City mayor. Senators allied with the President thumbed down his credibility. (READ: Edgar Matobato: Liar or truth-teller?)

Rule of law

If not state-sponsored, then what is it? For Gordon, the President's strong words against drug lords and pushers have encouraged suspects to prepare to fight back once police arrest them, similar to what authorities have been saying.

“Malakas loob ng President magsabi [sa pulis] na kailangan mawala 'yan, patayin ko 'yan [mga kriminal], siyempre ako bahala sa inyo….Ano epekto sa pusher? Ang epekto sa pusher, drug lord, nakahanda na 'yung mga drug pusher na lalaban,” he said.

(The President is confident in telling [the police] that they have to be eliminated, I'll kill them [those criminals], of course, I'll take care of you....What is the effect on the pusher? The effect on the pusher, drug lord, they are ready to fight back.)

Gordon claimed there is still rule of law in the country, contrary to the statements of local and international critics and human rights advocates. (READ: UN: Duterte lacks understanding of human rights institutions)

“Una, gusto ko sabihin may rule of law. We are not perfect but the branches of government are working so even if the President talks a lot, sinasabi ng iba wala raw rule of law; there is a rule of law,” Gordon said. (READ: Ramos: PH 'losing badly' in Duterte's first 100 days)

(First of all, I want to say that there is rule of law. We are not perfect but the branches of government are working, so even if the President talks a lot, some are saying there is no rule of law; there is rule of law.)

He also cited the statement of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency that the number of killings under former president Benigno Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte are “practically the same," even though PDEA chief Isidro Lapeña failed to support this claim with numbers during Thursday’s hearing.

Recommendations

Gordon said the committee report would likely be out by Monday, October 17. Among the panel’s recommendations is the strict compliance of the police to quickly report its findings to the public on investigations regarding drug-related deaths.

“'Yung corridor para sa oras na dapat malaman ng tao, kung suspendido ang police, justified ba ang killings, or dismiss agad, that’s part of the recommendation,” the senator said.

(The corridor for the time period when the people should know if the concerned police officer has been suspended, if the killings are justified, or there's an outright dismissal, that's part of the recommendation.)

“Policemen would now be conscious. There is pressure now na magawa agad ang resulta ng imbestigasyon (to fast-track the results of the investigation),” he added.

The senator is also proposing that both chambers of Congress be regularly given copies of crimes recorded. This, he said, would ensure that both houses would be able to act and verify them swiftly.

“Papipirmahin ko pa mga kasama natin na dapat lahat ng patayan, crimes, meron tayong index crimes na ibibigay regularly sa Senate peace and order committee at justice committee at sa House congressional committee on peace and order para may handle tayo. Di tayo naghahanap,” Gordon said.

(I will seek the signatures of my colleagues that in the case of all killings, crimes, there should be index crimes that should be given regularly to the Senate peace and order committee and the justice committee, and the House committee on peace and order so we have a handle. We won't have to look for it.)

“Para kung talagang patayan, para makagalaw agad Senado at House (This is so that if there are really killings, the Senate and the House can move)," he added.

The Senate wrapped up the probe a day after the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights urged the Philippines to stop extrajudicial killings, and warned that declarations by high-ranking officials could "legitimize" violence against drug users. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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

image