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.

Birds of the same feather won't catch each other

Now this one’s really De Lima’s dilemma:

In the September 6 episode of “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa,” where Mayor Rody Duterte sometimes settles scores with his enemies, Mayor Duterte urged the Commission on Human Rights to come back and investigate the resurgence of killings in the streets.

“Wala na ko mogunit sa pagkasupervisor sa DCPO [Davao City Police Office],” Duterte said. “Though my resignation was not accepted, I told them that I consider myself resigned. Sukad sa CHR [Commission on Human Rights] inquiry, wala na ko misulod sa DCPO. Pero natingala ko ngano man padayon gihapon ang patay?”

On March 30, 2009, the CHR conducted a highly publicized public inquiry into the killings in Davao City that have gone unabated since 1998. Leila De Lima, the CHR’s feisty chairperson, squarely put the blame on Mayor Duterte’s shoulders for his failure to stop the killings, if not for aiding the criminals.

Ostensibly to give the CHR a free hand in its inquiry, Mayor Duterte resigned as a supervisor of the DCPO on March 31. His resignation, however, was rejected by DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno, saying it’s against the mandate of the law.

Now five months after the CHR started the public inquiry, it seems Mayor Duterte is laying the blame at the foot of CHR Chair Leila De Lima.

In August alone, there were 13 people killed; in September, five. Mayor Duterte asked the CHR to explain the killings. Surely somebody else is responsible for them, and it certainly not him, contrary to the allegations, because he has already given up control over the police.

“Mangutana ko karon, ngano man padayon lang gihapon ang patay?” Duterte asked. “Is there somebody behind it? Is there somebody trying to create a chaotic condition? Is there somebody who wants to pain a picture of Davao City as killing fields?

“I leave it to the CHR to please come back to Davao City and investigate more. I’d like the human rights to come back and tell us what is this all about?”

It’s clever of him to say those words because it effectively cast the CHR in a bad light. It’s as if Mayor Duterte is saying that the commission made a wrong decision by asking him to distance himself from the police, from whose ranks the DDS gunmen allegedly come. It’s as if he’s saying that the commission should let him do his own thing because it’s the only way to deal with the city’s criminality. Otherwise, the situation just might go berserk.

Yet Mayor Duterte’s remarks have only highlighted an anomaly in his administration. The City Mayor’s Office has at its disposal a P450 million budget for Peace and Order. Of this amount, the mayor can disburse as much as 1.2 million daily if needed. “Whith this enormous sum of public funds given to…the city mayor to maintain peace and order in the community,” said Mindanao Daily Mirror columnist Bert Tesorero, “there is no reason why street killings would go unabated for almost a decade now without a single case solved by the police.”

The police cannot be accused of ineptitude, either.

There is probably one reason why the police find it hard to stamp out the killings. According to the report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, “You Can Die Anytime,” most members of the DDS are policemen, ex-policemen, rebel returnees, military personnel, and jobless youths who were involved “in a bit of drug pushing.”

“The DDS…,” it further noted, “is run by handlers. Such a handler is called the amo (boss). The amo is usually a policeman or ex-policeman, and in some cases, a barangay official…A local journalist, who has been investigating extrajudicial killings in Davao City for almost ten years, believed that all handlers report to the police precinct commander in their area who distributes money for “operations” and reports, in turn, to an official in the city government—‘the big boss.’”

Despite these damning revelations, police and military officers denied that they are by no means involved in the killings.

If, however, the police are involved in the killings, as claimed by the Human Rights Watch, then how can we expect them to get after the criminals if the criminals themselves come from their own ranks?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Overfunded but Underperforming?

According to Mindanao Daily Mirror columnist Bert Tesorero:
One of the key points the CHR is visibly trying to dig deeper into relative to the failure of the local authorities to solve and stop extra judicial killings that had dragged on for almost a decade in Davao City is the tremendous amount of peace and order fund of the city mayor’s office which enjoys a P450 million yearly allocation for peace and order where the city mayor may disburse as much as P1.2 million every day as the need arises. Thus with this enormous sum of public funds given to the disposal of the city mayor to maintain peace and order in the community, there is no reason why street killings would go unabated for almost a decade now with-out a single case solved by the police.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A demolition job

Why is it that local government officials are heaping obstacles on the way of Leila de Lima, the feisty Chair of Commission on Human Rights?

The recent one is the legal suit filed against her by Jonathan Balo, the inmate who led de Lima and company to the quarry site where victims of the Davao Death Squad were buried. The site where the police found human remains is located just behind the Firing Range owned by a retired policeman.

This Inquirer editorial hazards an answer:
A demolition job it truly is—a criminal complaint that alleges an official gave an order, without any proof, and imputes guilt based on hearsay (if even that). It also assumes that the series of events as narrated in the affidavit, assuming the report is accurate, can only have one possible meaning. In fact, and considering the circumstances, we must not immediately rule out the possibility that some of those police officers mentioned in the affidavit were part of an elaborate set-up.

The Balo turnaround should be seen in this spectral light, as the black propaganda Nograles says it is. The reason: the identification of the possible site of a mass grave means the CHR is getting closer to the masterminds of the Death Squad.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama grateful to GMA. For what?

US President Barack Obama, the ABS-CBN News Online reports, is grateful to GMA because "of the strong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia, ranging from the human rights violations that have too long existed in Burma, to the problems that we're seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea."

Nice. But what about the killing of journalists, which have taken place under her administration? What about the extrajudicial killings in Davao City where her former adviser on peace and order, Rodrigo Duterte, is mayor?

And what about the human rights violations that, according to the Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima, "have escalated since she [GMA] took office."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What President Obama should ask GMA?

When GMA delivered her ninth SONA, a decidedly score-settling speech, she said that she would be meeting with US President Barack Obama, and emphasised that it was the latter who invited her.
I have accepted the invitation of President Obama to be the first Southeast Asian leader to meet him at the White House, later this week.

That he sought out the Philippines testifies to our strong and deep ties. High on our agenda will be peace and security issues. Terrorism: how to meet it, how to end it, how to address its roots in injustice or prejudice—and first and always how to protect lives.

We will discuss nuclear non-proliferation. The Philippines will chair the review of the nuclear weapons non-proliferation Treaty in New York in May 2010. The success of the talks will be a major diplomatic achievement for us.

There is a range of other issues we will discuss, including the global challenge of climate change, especially the threat to countries with long coastlines. And there is the global recession, its worse impact on poor people, and the options that can spare them from the worst.
But it may be very well if President Obama should ask GMA if she is "still taking advice from her former consultant on security and public order, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City," argues Elaine Pearson, of Human Rights Watch.

'For the State to kill reflectively, absent emotion, on ceremony, it is not right'

Below is a comment from someone who refuses to identify him/herself, but gives his/her thoughts nonetheless on the madness in the city. I'm re-posting it for others to see.

Great blog! I admire your insights (especially for someone so young) and more importantly, your courage for speaking out what many Davaoeños think but are afraid to say for fear of joining those buried in the Laud Mass Graves. I salute you.

I regret to say that I do not have the same courage to post my name, but allow me to share my own views about the Davaoeños' twisted sense of peace, order, and justice.

Majority of the Davaeños take pride in our city’s “peace and order”. Otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for the same person over and over again. You were right in saying that many silently rejoice over the news of an alleged drug pusher (no matter how young or how low in the drug trade ladder) gunned down by motorcycle-riding men. One less criminal to worry about. But the MURDER of this criminal will somehow just hover over our heads, barely unreachable by our conscious minds. It's so sad.

Now others might say, "How about those hardened criminals who do immediate and actual harm to other people, like a murderer, for example? Isn’t a summary execution justified here? What would we say to the mother whose five-year-old daughter has been raped and murdered?"

To answer that, I would like to quote a line from The Practice:

"I would say, if it were my daughter, I’d like to kill whoever did it myself. And if I ever came face-to-face with the guy, I couldn’t guarantee any of you that I wouldn’t kill him. But if I did, it would be wrong. And for the State to kill reflectively, absent emotion, on ceremony, it is not right. And if I might add, one of the biggest problems we have today— our children are being raised in a culture that not only condones revenge, but perhaps even celebrates it as a societal good. It’s wrong."

Wow. It is one thing for a grieving parent to kill out of rage and vengeance. But for the State to kill, reflectively, absent emotion, on ceremony, and in the case of Davao, without due process, where perhaps only one man gets to decide who lives and who dies, it is very, very wrong.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Birds of the same feather are buried together

MASS GRAVE. Laud Quarry in Ma-a, Davao City where, according to an ex-DDS member, cadavers of the vigilante victims were buried. (Photo courtesy of Toto Lozano)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More than a political harassment

Although the mayor can very well defend himself and dodge critics, local and foreign alike, with such ingenuity, he has found an additional support in the person of 2nd District Councilor Danny Dayanghirang.

In his Op-Ed pieces, which appeared yesterday and today in Mindanao Times, Councilor Dayanghirang extolled, among others the virtues of the Dutertes—from the late Gov. Duterte down to Mayor Duterte to Inday Sara Duterte to Polong Duterte—and proceeded to say that the continuing investigation of the CHR is but politically motivated.

Reason? The 2010 election is drawing near and those who have plans to take over Duterte’s post, which will likely be taken by another Duterte, are scrambling to find ways on how to break the Duterte dynasty. To Councilor Dayanghirang’s logic, the spate of killings that have taken place under Duterte’s watch might be one of the issues Duterte’s political opponents are using to carry out their demolition plan.

That the Dutertes are virtuous, ably handled the city government throughout the years, bring the city to where it is today, is no matter. No question about that. In fact, I wrote an Op-Ed piece some months ago, praising “…the seriousness and conscientiousness with which he takes his job as mayor of Davao City…”

What matters, however, is how Councilor Dayanghirang and indeed the apologists of Mayor Duterte perceived the CHR investigation on extrajudicial killings. To them, this is nothing but a handiwork of people envious of Mayor Duterte’s remarkable feat.

I’m sorry, but, as I said somewhere, “This…is not just a political criticism being leveled against Mayor Duterte by his political opponents in order to upset his long-standing domination of Davao politics. It’s more than that. It’s a very serious issue…”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Myths demythified

Kay Seok, a Seoul-based researcher in Human Rights Watch's Asia division, debunked the myths that have surrounded the whole Davao Death Squad phenomenon. In her piece, Davao citizens should reject death squad killings, which appeared yesterday in the Op-Ed page of Mindanao Times, she said the new report the Human Rights Watch released exposed the "myths and justifications that local officials have relied on to avoid any serious investigation into the killings" for what they are: dubious claims that facts could not support whatsoever.

Myth No. 1

The killings are randomly committed by gang members.

Myth No. 2
The victims are all criminals.

Myth No. 3
Davao City is safer with the DDS stalking criminals.

Myth No. 4
The old killings remain unsolved while new ones continue to occur, because of a lack of cooperation by witnesses and families of victims.

Myth No. 5
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte deserves credit for keeping Davao City safe from criminals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Extrajudicial killings in Davao City: A timeline

There have been many developments since the Commission on Human Rights came here on March 30 to look into the flagrant extrajudicial killings in the city. But I wasn’t able to blog about them because I have been up to something else lately. I am glad, though, that I was still able to keep track of them, thanks to the ever-reliable Google Alerts.

Here then is an attempt to put together the events that ensued since the CHR’s visit:

May 29, 2009 (The day I started to monitor the issue)

CIDG files rap vs Davao Sur Cop

June 1, 2009

The journalist David McNeill visited Davao City and came up with a piece, Tough justice: On the trail of Philippines death squads, which was published in the British publication The Independent and in other international publications as well. (Here, here, here, and here)

June 3, 2009

In response to the allegation that some members of the Davao City Police are moonlighting as death squad gunmen, Davao City Police Director Senior Supt. Ramon Apolinario said DCPO was willing to probe its own cops.

June 4, 2009

UN noted 70% drop in killings. From Malaya: “…Prof. Philip Alston has reported a 70 percent drop in cases of unexplained killings in the Philippines since 2007 when he was sent here by the UN to look into allegedly increasing human rights cases.”

June 6, 2009

“Davao death squad killings have spilled into Cebu,” argued the columnist Juan Mercado in his column, “Cebu’s Death Squad.”

June 14, 2009

RP no longer on UN rights prober’s itinerary, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It said: “The Philippines was no longer on the itinerary of United Nations (UN) official Philip Alston who was preparing to visit other countries before wrapping up his tenure as special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima said.”

June 23, 2009

Death squad investigation set, reported the Business World. It said: “The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) announced yesterday the formation of an inter-agency task force that will look into the so-called Davao Death Squads (DDS), a vigilante group linked to extralegal killings in Davao City.”

June 26, 2009

ABS-CBN News Online reported: "Top national and local government executives remain in denial over summary executions perpetrated by the alleged Davao Death Squads, the chief of the Commission on Human Rights said Friday."

In the same report, De Lima also announced the forming of a DDS Task Force whose head will be De Lima herself. The Task Force includes representatives from different government agencies: DOJ, DSWD, NBI, DILG, PDEA, BJMP, DND, Human Rights Affairs Office of both the PNP and the AFP.

(This will be updated from time to time.)

Carlos Latuff on DDS

Carlos Latuff–yes, the controversial Brazilian political cartoonist–has made a cartoon on Davao Death Squad and the public’s response to the mayhem this ghostly group is sowing.

Actually, it was I who told him to make one. Our correspondence started when I used one of his cartoons as a logo for Silence Kills!, a blog dedicated to the issue of extrajudicial killings.

Since his cartoons are copy-left (his phrase, not mine), which means anyone can use them with or without permission, I e-mailed Carlos informing him that I’d be using his cartoon Silence Kills as a profile photo of the blog.

He replied:

My dear Philipinian brother,

Thanks a lot for your feedback. You are not only allowed to reproduce this cartoon in particular as any other you may think relevant. My art is your art. And, in the future, if you need any special cartoons for an activity or something, just tell me and I will make one specially for ya.

All the best,

And tell him I did. “What image comes to your mind regarding this issue?” he asked, adding “Try to describe this image…”

I replied:

Here’s the image I have in mind: A crowd cheering over the death of hundreds of criminals allegedly killed by Davao Death Squad. This image is rather like the image you made in which you depicted Alan Dershowitz masturbating when Lebanese are seen dead on TV.

Hence the cartoon above. I love it! It powerfully captures the situation here: When someone’s killed by the DDS, don’t some of us feel happy, overtly or covertly, that the criminals are already gone, and we could now walk along the city streets, even during the night, without fear of having our bags snatched or being knifed for a few hundred pesos?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What do we stand for?

Published in the 5/24/09 issue of Mindanao Times, the article below, which I wrote, argued that the CHR investigation is not so much about them, the criminals, as it is about us, it's about our principles, our belief that Davao City, indeed this nation, is a society where rule of law, not of men, prevails.

Since the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) began on March 30 its investigation on the extrajudicial killings in Davao City, a cloud of doubt hung over the CHR. Many Davaoeños cannot seem to understand why the CHR is investigating the killings in Davao City that, according to the latest count, have claimed more than 800 victims—most of whom have criminal records.

They can’t help asking: Which human rights is the CHR favoring? Is it the human rights of the criminals or the human rights of the innocent civilians? Why shine a bright light on the killings when the city and its citizens are enjoying peace and prosperity? Can the CHR not leave this dark side of the city since Davaoeños can live with it anyway? Don’t these criminals deserve to be killed in the first place?

While Davaoeños asked these questions, they do not frame the debate very well. This gripping issue of our time is not about whose rights should be given more consideration. It’s about what principles do we stand for.

By all accounts, every human being possesses human rights by virtue of their being human. Regardless of one’s class, color, creed, or—yes, criminal record—one has rights that must be respected and protected. These rights include, among others, the right to life and due process of law. These rights are universally accepted and viewed as important—so important these rights are that, no matter the intent, every violation against them is simply unacceptable in a society that claims to uphold the rule of law.

And extrajudicial killing is one such unacceptable human right violation. But it has been difficult for some of us to understand, let alone accept, this because the victims usually involved in these killings were the ones who mess around the law themselves. So how can you grant them the benefit of the law when they do not follow the law? Why respect their human rights when they do not respect the human rights of others?

What more malignant disease a democratic society can have than to harbor such a profoundly distorted sense of justice. Just because a person has flouted the law doesn’t mean punishing him, extra judicially, is justified. Of course, this does not mean that criminals should not be punished. They should be punished because, as Cesare Beccaria explained in “Essay on Crime and Punishment,” “A wrong already committed…ought to be punished…only because it might otherwise excite false hopes of impunity in others.” But the manner of meting out justice is equally important. In other words, the means is as important as the end. The first should simply not be sacrificed at the altar of the second.

Today, we have no king or emperor like Nero who once ruled madly, ordering even the death of his own mother and his wife. Neither are we under the rule of medieval clergymen who subjected the heretics to Inquisition, leaving many a people burning at the stakes. Today, we live in a society where the rule of law, not of men, is observed. It means that there is still a process that we must follow even in punishing the most bestial of crimes. It means that when you commit a crime or is a suspected criminal, you are not punished right away. But rather, you are apprehended, charged, prosecuted, tried, and convicted then punished or acquitted then freed.

That is the process that those who have been killed by the ghostly vigilante group called “Davao Death Squad” should have gone through. That is the process that the CHR found missing in dealing with the criminals. Alas, that is the process that we Davaoeños are willing to give up in the name of peace and order.

Some people do not get the point why the CHR had to investigate what CHR Chair Leila de Lima described as “one of the most audacious violations against the right to life in our times.” Critics of the CHR construed the commission’s move to investigate the spate of killings as cuddling the criminals. They narrowly perceived it as only favoring the rights of the criminals and ignoring the other side of the equation, which is the rights of the civilians. The public inquiry the CHR initiated struck them as disturbing the city’s serene status quo, which Davaoeños currently enjoy. They even branded the CHR Chair as pakialamera.

These critics, however, are off the mark. The CHR is first and foremost for human rights. Its job is to ensure that human rights are always respected and protected, regardless of whose human rights it is. It is thus unwise to berate the CHR when it’s merely doing its job.

I know many of you out there will ask me, “You’re a Davaoeño, don’t you want peace and order?” I am a Davaoeño who also wants to live a peaceful life in a peaceful environment, as do other Davaoeños. None of that means we should be mum about the killings happening in our own backyard, or remain a “bystander,” as Bro. Karl Gaspar put it.

Our silence is more than an admission that the killings are just all right. It is as if we Davaoeños take the Machiavellian dictum, “the end justifies the means,” to heart—and take it fanatically.

Is that what we stand for, really?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Davao Death Squad's presence brings no good

Whether in the digital or in the real world, it is not rare at all to read or hear words of praises for the (dis)service the Davao Death Squad (DDS) has been doing for the city. In YouTube, for example, where a report on DDS by Chris Rogers of ITV-CNN is posted, one reads from a certain darkskyBAO this comment:
I'm a firm believer when it comes to absolute justice. Despite many would detest their disapproval over the "shadowy" group we have to admit that the things they do greatly benefit the safety and order of Davao. The end justifies the means; all criminals no matter how big or just petty hooligans, be it a underage delinquent or not as long as they are deemed a threat in the face of our country. We must not hesitate more. I wish some one like these would be placed in Sulu and Metro Manila.
Many people--Davaoeños and non-Davaoeños alike--share this most cherished belief of darkskyBAO. Since the DDS, they are led to believe, started to complement or take over--not sure which one--the job (that of busting criminals) that solely belongs to the state, the crime rate in the city decreased. No less than the city government is proud of this feat.

But has the city's crime rate really dropped down since DDS began its operation?

No, said Human Rights Watch in its report "You Can Die Anytime." Rebutting the city's claim that "From a 3-digit crime rate per 10,000 people in 1985, Davao has reached an almost Utopian environment with a monthly crime volume of 0.8 cases per 10,000 persons from 1999 up to 2005", the HRW report said:
These descriptions attempt to conceal a rampant crime wave—namely, the murder of hundreds of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children.

More importantly, by averaging out years of statistics and omitting most recent years, they belie the city’s sharp upward trend in crime rates over the last decade. According to statistics from the police, between 1999 and 2008, the population in Davao City grew from 1.12 million to 1.44 million, or by 29 percent. Meanwhile, the number of annual crime incidents during this period rose from 975 to 3,391, or by 248 percent.21 These numbers show that, contrary to the city government’s self-proclaimed success, its tough anti-crime campaign has failed to curve crime rates. An increasing number of death squad killings appears to have contributed to worsening crime rates in the city.
If it were true, and I believe it is, it only shows that, contrary to many a people's belief, lawlessness only breeds further lawlessness. So we must disabuse ourselves from thinking that the presence of DDS is good because, in reality, it's not.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Prologue: Silence Kills!

Max Soliven once described Davao City as an "Oasis of Tranquility and law and order in troubled Mindanao." But from this oasis of tranquility and law and order emanates a stench, that being extrajudicial killings.

Here many have been killed without the benefit of the law. The culprit? Reports after reports point to the bonnet-less, leather jacket clad, motorcycle riding men, as the ones responsible for all of this. This ghostly group is called the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

The statistics of those killed by the DDS is steadily rising. According to Fr. Amado Picardal, spokesperson of Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE), "For over 10 years, the number of victims of the so-called DDS has reached 890 (from 1998 to March 2009). “Most victims of death squad killings,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch says, “have been alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children. Mistaken identity victims, bystanders, and family members or friends of intended targets have also been killed in death squad attacks.”

But where is the outrage?

More than two decades ago, while in Davao reporting on the carnage waged by the vigilante group Alsa Masa, Sheila Coronel made an acute observation on the public’s response towards the killings. “Often in Davao,” Coronel wrote, “when one asks why certain things are allowed to happen, the queries are shrugged off with a curt “You don’t live here, you don’t know what it is like.””

Again, as Davao City is enthralled by another vigilante group, this time by the DDS, the same thing can be said of the public's response. Amidst everything, you cannot find the outrage. Instead, when you try to raise this issue, the protests are shrugged off with such remarks as: “They’re out there taking care of the criminality. I personally don't have anything against what they're doing,” “These people have been warned before, but they are stubborn, so they have to pay the price.”

But there's a more common response, which is no response at all—silence. When someone’s killed, there are those who might say it’s all right since the one killed is a plague to society anyway. But also there are those who simply keep quiet. They neither accept nor reject the killing. If others express their disgust or support over the killings, there are those who simply don’t say a word. They are just silent.

There lies the problem. Silence may not be the only reason why extrajudicial killings continue, but it does contribute to its perpetuation, for it might be mistaken by the culprits for approval and thus embolden them to kill wantonly.

To reverse the situation, this blog has been put up. The idea of enlisting a blog in this cause is partly inspired by Sheril Kirshenbaum’s movement in the Web, Silence Is The Enemy. Kirshenbaum, a marine biologist at Duke University, said she was “sexually assaulted” in 2006. Too horrified, she neither screamed nor fought back. But she was able to “break away before it escalated to rape.” It wasn’t the first time that it happened in their neighborhood. “I was the third women in the neighborhood to report a similar story to police in two weeks–also the luckiest,” she wrote. Has she remained silent? No. Since then, she vowed not to be “a silent witness to rape.”

Thus, she set up Silence Is The Enemy “to help a generation of young women half a world away.” “The movement,” she said, “began a couple weeks ago after I was feeling particularly outraged after reading Kristof’s terrific NYTimes piece.”

Meanwhile, this blog is called Silence Kills!—so named to impress upon the people that being silent only brings more harm than good, that the more this problem is ignored, the worse the situation will become. Silence kills!

In Davao City, many things go by unnoticed, including extrajudicial killings. But here it won’t. Here we’ll talk about it. Here we’ll speak up against it.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: Why must we care? We must care because while extrajudicial killings put a spurious order on the streets, as the oft-cited exchange in the play A Man For All Seasons reminds us, we can’t cut a great road through the law just to get after the Devil, for when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on us — where would we hide, 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,” St. Thomas More intoned, “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.”

For our own safety’s sake, break the silence. Speak out.