MANILA, Philippines – After the spate of alleged extrajudicial killings, where should prosecutors be? At the forefront, at least according to lawyers challenging the war on drugs.
Prosecutors have been violating their mandate when it comes to investigating killings, specifically Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular No. 61 from 1993, according to Gil Aquino of the Center for International Law, who spoke on Monday, November 20, at the launch of a human rights summit led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines or IBP.
The circular states that prosecutors should “take the initiative of making a procedural investigation whenever a dead body is found and there might be foul play.”
But instead of prosecuting every single killing, whether by policemen or masked vigilantes, the DOJ's latest data shows that they have handled only 71 drug-related deaths out of the thousands who have been killed. Of these 71, only 19 have reached the courts, based on the DOJ’s own data as of August 22.
Aquino said the CenterLaw will raise this issue in oral arguments at the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, November 21, opposite the Solicitor General who will defend the Philippine National Police or the PNP’s war on drugs.
Asked if they have reached out to the DOJ to address this concern, Aquino said: “I think people can understand our apprehension when there is a Secretary of Justice who says criminals and drug suspects are not part of humanity.”
He was referring to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II’s remarks in February, in response to the Amnesty International report, which said the government may be committing crimes against humanity. (READ: Lawyers do dirty groundwork to fight Duterte’s drug war)
Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler
A key word in this issue is inquest, the procedure conducted by prosecutors when a person is arrested without a warrant. (READ: A guide to court jargon)
In the case of the police’s anti-drug operations, law groups are calling for mandatory inquest proceedings whenever a suspect is killed. This would automatically bring to the judicial process every case of "nanlaban", or cases of suspects getting killed for allegedly fighting back.
This is already provided for under existing rules. Rule 15.4 of the Philippine National Police or PNP’s Operations Manual states that incidents where suspects die in armed confrontation have to be always brought to prosecutors for inquest proceedings.
But as of September 27, the PNP has managed to submit only 10 inquest reports out of the 3,800 deaths at the time.
“Minsan po pati ‘yung patay, ini-inquest, if you look at the inquest forms ang ini-inquest ‘yung mga patay na,” Aquino said. (They subject the dead to inquest. If you look at the inquest forms, the dead is the subject of the inquest.)
Aquino is referring to 22-year-old Joshua Merced, 25-year-old Leo Geluz, and 37-year-old Bimbo Merced, who were killed by masked vigilantes on January 25 in their neighborhood in San Andres Bukid, Manila.
CenterLaw is accusing policemen of the Manila Police District or MPD’s Station 6 of being the masterminds of the killings.
In February, the MPD filed a complaint against the 3 dead men at the City Prosecutor’s Office of Manila, which, if acted upon, would effectively subject the 3 to an inquest.
“How can a dead person undergo inquest? Death extinguishes criminal liability,” Christina Antonio of CenterLaw said.
“It boggles our minds because hindi po ba dapat ang ini-inquest ‘yung nakapatay, which is yung mga pulis? (It boggles our minds because shouldn’t you subject to inquest the one who killed, or the policemen?)” Aquino added.
To investigate the "nanlaban" cases is one of the main requests of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), who will be arguing with CenterLaw on Tuesday.
In its comment defending the PNP, the Office of the Solicitor General said these investigations are “fishing expeditions.”
Aquino and CenterLaw will be part of the summit which aims to empower other sectors to continue challenging the war on drugs.
IBP National President Adiel Dan Elijah Fajardo said they invited prosecutors and judges and that he “hopes they will come.” – Rappler.com