By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — Detained Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima filed Senate Bill (SB) number 1842 which seeks to “define and criminalize extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and guarantee state obligations to effectively investigate and properly document EJKs.”

“Four years since the promise to win the drug war in three to six months was made — the promise remains unfulfilled but the killings still persist, the air is still pervaded by the stench of cold blood, and the streets are still the playground of trigger-happy villains who slay without end,” De Lima said.

“As Filipinos grappled to survive the world’s longest quarantine, the killers roamed more freely — unchecked, without legal ramifications, and with even more impunity. While the people stayed in their homes as they were told, the bloodshed lingered like a virus so potent that the killings rose by half,” she added.

De Lima, a staunch critic of the Duterte administration and a known human rights defender, said the health crisis was also being “used as a scheme to continue to perpetuate the brutal crackdown on activists and environmental defenders.”

“Nakukulangan pa ba ang administrasyong Duterte sa dami ng namamatay? Libo-libo na ang biktima ng EJK. Libo-libo na rin ang namatay dahil sa pandemya. Pero walang patid pa rin ang mga karumal-dumal na pamamaslang,” she said, citing the recent murders of human rights group Karapatan’s paralegal Zara Alvarez and Anakpawis leader Randall Echanis.

A press release by the Senate on the bill cited Philippine National Police (PNP) records reporting at least 5,526 suspects were killed in police operations from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019, a far cry from the 27,000 estimated by domestic human rights groups.

Data from the Philippine drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), on the other hand, revealed EJKs became “even more fatal amid the pandemic as the police killed 50 percent more people between April to July 2020 than they did in the previous four-month period.”

De Lima first filed a related bill titled SB number 1197 (or the Anti-Judicial Killing Act) during the 17th Congress and refiled it as SB number 371 in the 18th Congress but legislation failed to materialize.

The new bill adopted from the UP Law Center Institute of Human Rights (UP IHR) paper will provide the definition of important terms that would prevent the perpetrators of EJKs from circumventing the law as it seeks to define EJK as “the unlawful or arbitrary killing or arbitrary deprivation of life committed by State agents or non-State actors,” who are either “acting under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, or upon the instruction of, or under the direction or control of, or by policy, order or behest of, the State in carrying out the conduct.”

“It not only defines EJK, it likewise imposes punishment not only on state actors but also upon non-state actors who are equally guilty of committing the atrocious act of extra-judicial killing. It imposes penalties not only upon the principals of the crime but also upon the accessories thereof,” De Lima noted.

The Bill also mandates state officials with authority to probe EJKs, to be rigorously trained on effective investigation “to come up with science-based and objective assessment of the incident and be free from interference from officials involved.”

It also requires the investigation and persons in charge to be independent of the ones involved in the case.

“One of the most salient provisions is the section that provides for a prima facie case for arbitrary deprivation of life and presumption of liability. This provision would be a powerful deterrent that would make the perpetrators of EJKs think twice before pulling the trigger because they could no longer hide behind the flimsy excuse of impulse,” she said, noting as well the importance of reparation of victims of EJKs as the Bill also seeks to establish a Human Rights Violations Victims Fund where victims and legal heirs will have the right to claim compensation for crimes committed against life, rights and dignity.

“Compensation and reparation which, though could no longer bring life unduly taken back, could at least help the victims and their families to heal and move on from the trauma and the pain,” she said.

Proposed US House’s Philippine Human Rights Act

Almost a week after the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the European Commission to “immediately suspend” trade preferences to the Philippines due to its human rights record, the US Congress introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act bill to the US House of Representatives which seeks to terminate aid to the AFP and PNP until the Philippines starts probing and prosecuting human rights violations.

In a dispatch from Camp Crame where she is currently detained, De Lima said “Duterte can no longer ignore the build-up of pressure from the western democracies on his regime and its dismissal of international concerns on its human rights record.”

“As we have said time and again, Duterte continues to make the Philippines a pariah state at the expense of the Filipino people and its national institutions. In addition to the EU and US pressures, we also expect the International Criminal Court to receive the results of its Prosecutor’s preliminary examination on Duterte’s crimes against humanity any time now before the year ends,” she said in the handwritten letter.

“As they say, “walang forever“, even in the rule of a strongman who does not want to stop killing poor citizens in the name of a fake drug war. The clock has started ticking on Duterte, and his time is fast running out. Unless he forces the Philippines and its people to live exclusively dependent on China, to the exclusion of the West and the rest of the democratic world, Duterte will take down the whole country along with him and his irrational obsession with killing,” she added.