Amid the unabated killings in the country often targeting suspected drug offenders, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has reintroduced a measure seeking to define and provide for acts that constitute extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and ensure accountability over the suspicious deaths recorded under the Duterte administration.
In filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 371, De Lima said that EJK remains a grave threat not just in the Philippines, but also across the world, that demands the most certain effort through legislation.
“In light of the thousands of deaths, the Filipino as a nation cannot negate that EJK is a clear and present phenomenon of the times boldly challenging our constitutionally-protected human right against taking of life, transgression of due process, and presumption of innocence of criminal suspects,” she said.
While the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has recorded 5,000 deaths involving “drug personalities” from July 2016 since Duterte launched his drug war to 2018, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) claimed that the number could be as high as 27,000 owing to the lack of information being released by the government.
Even though the deaths related to anti-drug operations have tapered significantly for Metro Manila where the killings were initially most rampant, De Lima noted that the epicenter of the war on drugs has reportedly moved north towards neighboring Central Luzon.
“Tragically, a significant portion of the victims of these killings are those of innocent men, women, and even children who were either caught in the crossfire or misidentified as drug personalities,” said the former justice secretary.
SB No. 371, seeks to define EJK as an unlawful and deliberate killing of targeted individuals or groups by agents of the State and under its order or acquiescence in lieu of arrest, investigation and prosecution.
“Extrajudicial killing includes summary killing perpetrated by private individuals for purposes of carrying out on their own or in the context of vigilantism, campaign or policy of the State,” De Lima noted.
SB No. 371 also seeks to strengthen the intervention and investigative functions of government agencies, including the CHR, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), to look into EJKs.
Under the measure, the CHR is authorized to investigate EJK cases unprompted or on complaint by an interested party, empowered to conduct inquiries on matters relating to EJK, and to require support services from government agencies in carrying out of its mandate.
PNP, for its part, should follow minimum standard for Police Intervention Operations all the time, including ensuring the safety of the arresting team and innocent bystanders, using a “proportionate amount of force and non-lethal weapons as the primary tool for arrest.”
Meanwhile, NBI is required under the measure to make its services available to the CHR and PNP in their inquiries and investigation of EJK cases and observe human rights standards and procedures while conducting their own independent investigations into EJK cases.
To prevent more unjust killings in the country, De Lima noted that SB No. 371 makes local chief executives and chief of police administratively liable if their communities experience a surge in EJK cases, except in communities beset by armed conflict.
“In all police interventions, where death of suspected criminals or innocent bystanders occur by reason of use of lethal force, the responsible police officer shall automatically be subjected to investigation and preventive suspension to be carried out by the Internal Affairs Service of the Philippine National Police,” she added.
During the 17th Congress, De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, first filed SB No. 1197, also known as the “Anti-Extrajudicial Killing Act,” in 2016 but it remained pending in the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee.
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