Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where has the CHR gone?

It seemed that I already lost track of the CHR's activity regarding the extrajudicial killings in Davao City. Is it my fault? Or is it the CHR's because it just can't seem to concentrate on one case?

It came and went. Never did it come back.

Monday, January 4, 2010

After the inquiry, what?

When the CHR started looking into the extrajudicial killings in Davao City, I was one of those who cheered. At long last, I thought then, we started talking about it publicly.

Today, however, I begin to wonder what the CHR is really up to. The CHR inquiry, it seemed to me, produced only more heat and and less light. It said it's going to release its report after it's done with the inquiry. But until now, the report is still to be released.

And yet...where's the CHR now? Off it goes to Maguindanao, investigating another incident. Tsk...tsk...tsk...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Human Rights Day

Today, December 10, is declared as the "Human Rights Day." From the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
Human Rights Day 2009 on 10 December will focus on non-discrimination. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. These first few famous words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established 60 years ago the basic premise of international human rights law. Yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe.
Nowhere is this discrimination more glaring than in the recent decision of the Commission on Election (COMELEC) to junk the petition of Ang Ladlad to be accredited as a party-list group. Not only is the decision unconstitutional, it also smacks of backwardness, in thought and in action.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Extrajudicial killings on screen

This post is late. I should have done this a few days back. But, as they say, it's better late than never.

For his film "Engwentro" (Clash), Pepe Diokno received the Luigi de Laurentiis Award for a debut film (Lion of the Future) and Orizzonti Award (Best Film) at the 66th Venice Film Festival.

According to its website,
"Engkwentro' tells the story of Richard and Raymond, two teenage brothers on opposite sides of a gang war. Richard is the leader of his gang, ‘Bagong Buwan’ (”New Moon”) while Raymond is just being inducted into “Batang Dilim” (”Children of the Night”), a rival gang led by charming solvent boy, Tomas. Complications arise at a deadly midnight “engkwentro” (clash), when Tomas gives Raymond the task of killing his older brother.

All this happens while the City Death Squad lurks the streets. This real-life vigilante group is allegedly backed by the omnipresent Mayor Danilo Dularte Suarez, and is responsible for many unsolved murders of teen gangsters. Today, they are hunting down Richard. Will they take the younger brother, too?
"Diokno stumbled upon the inspiration for his debut full-length feature film while filming a documentary in Davao on youth behind bars for the nationalist advocacy group RockEd," said Rome Jorge, who wrote a profile of Diokno, "The vision of a new generation."

“I met these two brothers whose names are actually Richard and Raymond," Diokno was quoted as saying. "That was in 2007. I was nineteen when I was doing that documentary. The brothers I met, they were fifteen and seventeen. They were sure they were going to die as soon as they got into the detention facility. They were being chased by the Davao Death Squad [DDS].”

Congratulations to Pepe Diokno and to all the people behind the film. I'm glad that there are people like him who do not shy away from discussing this politically-charged issue through their chosen medium.

Diokno has just paved the way. I hope others will follow suit.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


After insinuating the last time that the CHR ’s public inquiry into the vigilante-style killings in Davao City is but politically motivated, a demolition job, a political harassment, 2nd District Councilor Danny Dayanghirang has now an absurd theory why the killings continue until today.

“The number of law violators in our city has not dwindled down, in fact, it is only increasing,” said Dayanghirang in his Mindanao Times Op-Ed piece, “Davao residents in the losing end,” which appeared on October 01, 2009. “This could be attributed to the never-ending investigation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the crimes in our city. The investigation of the CHR has made publicity to our city. Although we welcome the investigation of the CHR in order to purge the city from any misconception and to clear the name of the city, the slow paced investigation has only made the crime rate in the city grow. The criminal elements have shown its ugly head again, knowing that the investigation of the CHR would weaken the efficency of our police force.”

I’ve only had two comments:

1. Before the CHR stepped in, there has been a “rampant crime wave,” said the Human Rights Watch. If there is something we should put the blame on, among others, it is the Davao Death Squad.

“In the decade since it began operating,” said Kenneth Roth, “crime in Davao City has mushroomed ten times faster than the population. That’s not surprising, since contempt for the law breeds further lawlessness.”

Not only does DDS violate the rule of law, they also incite, if unwittingly, false hopes of immunity in others.

2. Our police can never be weakened by a mere CHR inquest—-they are not handcuffed while the CHR is continuing its inquest!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The rule of law applies even to the devils

Below is a letter to the editor I wrote regarding the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Vigilante rule."

In Robert Bolt’s play “A Man For All Seasons,” William Roper has a heated debate with Sir Thomas More about the law.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut every law in England to do that!

More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you — where would you hide Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s March 31 editorial, “Vigilante rule” is essentially an elaboration on the question More had to confront: Should the Devil be given the benefit of law?

By all means, the editorial says, we should. After all, “that is the process in a nation that upholds the rule of law, not the rule of the mob or vigilantes.”

Many of us whose relatives have been fortunately spared from these killings may have some degree of tolerance for the killings. And Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Leila de Lima finds it alarming that there’s a “growing culture or mentality of public acceptance of the executions.”

Sure, unlike before, we can now roam the streets of Davao City free from fear of being knifed or held up by lawless elements. Sure, we can take pride in making this city unfit for those who have a sinister plan of setting up a drug laboratory. Sure, the death of a person who either has a criminal record or is a drug addict/pusher is not so great a loss. They are “salot sa lipunan” [plague of society].

“But what if,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer asks, “their relatives or friends become targets or victims of vigilante assassinations?”

Like More, we should not “cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil.” Instead, we should give “the Devil benefit of law.”

What for? For our own safety’s sake.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

'Exile from human memory'

What are the perils of indifference?

That was the question around which Elie Wiesel’s speech, “The Perils Indifference,” revolves. “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees —not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory…,” Elie Wiesel said at a Millennium series lecture held in White House and hosted by then US first couple Mr. and Mrs. Bill Clinton.

When Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, spoke those words, he had in mind the victims of the tragic episode in humanity’s history that was the Holocaust.

But it is not too far off the mark to include Clarita Alia among those exiles from “human memory.” Call it inflated, but that is where Clarita Alia is right now: Gone from the memory of the people. Her cries remain unheeded; her demands seemed to fall on deaf ears. Over the years, Clarita Alia has been clamoring that justice be served for the death of her four children: Richard, 18; Christopher, 16; Bobby, 14; Fernando, 15—all were knifed to death. But she seemed clamoring in vain.

Already in her 50s and now a widow, she single-handedly raised her eight children by selling vegetables at Bankerohan, one of Davao City’s largest public markets. Like all mother, she dreamed of giving her children a bright future. But the environment Mayor Rodrigo Duterte created would make that dream just that: a dream.

Duterte, son of former Governor Vicente Duterte, figured prominently both here and abroad as a no nonsense mayor. Here, Davaoeños admired him for bringing this city out of perdition and into progress. Outside the city, his has become a template for effective local governance.

A former prosecutor, Duterte was first elected as mayor in 1987. At the time, his single biggest challenge was the rebel New People’s Army, which sowed terror in the metropolis. Duterte succeeded in his campaign to cripple the NPA.

And one can already see the marked contrast between today’s Davao City and the Davao City two decades ago. It became a business hub in an otherwise conflict-infested island, Mindanao. Investments continue to come in. Tourists can roam the city anytime, anywhere. Davao City has been reaping awards left and right.

Duterte attributed all of these to his administration’s relentless effort to bring—you guess it right—peace and order. These made Duterte and this city well known.

Duterte has, however, one inescapable sore point: He can be so tough on crminals that many feel he is going beyond the ambit of the law. The prominent Time magazine, for instance, called him “The Punisher,” describing him as someone who is “unapologetic about his willingness to venture beyond what legal niceties might permit.” From the moment he first sat down as mayor of Davao City, Duterte never departed from his campaign promise. Up to today, it’s still peace and order he is peddling.

But in what form did his campaign for peace and order take? In order to deliver peace and order, one crucial step is for him to take a hard stance against criminals menacing the city. To Duterte, it’s the criminals who disrupt investments, scare away tourists, and hamper progress. Hence, the city must get rid of them. Purge the criminals and peace, progress, and prosperity will follow suit.

Even before he became a mayor, he never endeared himself to outlaws. For as long as Duterte is in charge, no criminals, petty or otherwise, can ever do anything in this city without paying for it. And the payment usually comes at a high price. It may mean losing their lives. “Don’t f*** with my city,” Duterte used to warn thugs. Or else, “they should be prepared to die.”

It is in this hostile climate in which the Alia family lived, as do many Davaoeños. And it is a climate that proved to be dangerous, at least to the four of the Alia children who, at some point their lives, have been involved in criminal activities.

Yet with four of her children lost to the DDS and justice remains as elusive as ever, her plight does not seem to grind Davaoeños to a halt. Indeed, the silence on the killings is deafening; the dominant mode disturbing. If one goes around and asks ordinary people in the street about the killings, the most common responses are: “The killings would be a good example to other would be criminals,” or “They deserve it.”

Today we may turn indifferent to the clamor of the families of DDS victims. But surely in the coming years, we’re going to come to terms with it. The sooner we do it, the better. As Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, reminds us, “it’s not only wrong to summarily take someone’s life; it’s also extraordinarily dangerous.”

If the DDS wills to expand their class of victims, they can. And no one will be safe anymore, not even those whose criminal records are clean.