UP LAW STUDENTS CALL FOR THE IMMEDIATE END OF EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

“Violence breeds violence. Acts of violence committed in justice or in affirmation of a right or defense of peace do not end violence. They prepare and justify its continuation.” -Wendell Berry

The University of the Philippines Law Student Government strongly condemns extrajudicial killings and the culture of impunity in the Philippines masked under the war on drugs and urgently calls for the rule of law and protection of fundamental human rights to life and due process.

In the past few months, we have witnessed an alarming escalation in the number of killings in line with the government’s efforts against criminality, perpetrated both by unidentified gunmen and law enforcers. From May 10 to August 11 of this year alone, a total of 664 deaths have been recorded. Three hundred and four (304) of these killings have been committed by unknown vigilantes all over the country while 360 deaths were perpetrated by police and law enforcement agents. While we recognize government efforts to fight criminality as part of police power of the state, we cannot condone these acts of vigilantism and apparent disregard of the right to life and due process of our fellow Filipinos. The Law Student Government believes that measures to combat illegal drugs must be carried out under a framework that respects human rights━one that upholds the right to fair trial, eliminates impunity, and sees drug abuse as a public health concern that must be addressed with humanity and not blind violence.

Fundamentally, the Bill of Rights provides that “[n]o person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The due process clause in our Constitution was crafted precisely to safeguard the rights of the people against unwarranted intrusion of the government on the lives of citizens and to protect them against abuse by state authorities. The growing social tolerance for these extrajudicial killings disregards this most fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution, the highest law of the land. The government’s inaction and implicit recognition of this culture of violence have created a society that accepts it as a legitimate means to end criminality at the expense of due process. This theory is fundamentally flawed, and directly contradicts one of the primary principles of our criminal and penal law system stated in the Bill of Rights: that everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court. Every death of an individual who never had his day in court to refute the charges levied against him is an outrage against this nation’s basic beliefs.

Various countries all over the world have tried to rid their nations of illegal narcotics through brute force. In Thailand, a similar “war on drugs” was waged against drug-related crimes in February 2003. This resulted in a policy of arbitrary killings as the first three months of this campaign was marred by some 2,800 extrajudicial killings. An investigative panel set up in 2007 concluded that over half of those killed in 2003 had no links to the drug trade. Much like the situation we face in the Philippines today, most of the individuals were killed in “law enforcement operations” or by vigilantes who were never brought to justice. In Mexico, there have been over 80,000 individuals linked as casualties of drug-related crimes since 2006 despite the government’s war on narcotics. Drug cartels continue to hold significant sway in the Mexican economy even though a significant amount of Mexico’s law enforcement resources have been directed to counter the trade of illegal drugs. These situations clearly show that brute force does not solve the problem of illegal drugs.

Only by addressing the socio-economic roots of criminality can one make headway in the fight against it. The UP Law Student Government is one with the United Nations in calling for measures in combating the problem of substance abuse but at the same time ensuring the right to fair trial and elimination of impunity. Poverty alleviation and drug rehabilitation programs are essential to bringing down drug-related crimes.

We, the students of the UP College of Law, call upon our President to ensure the rule of law and make sure that due process rights of individuals are respected. President Duterte said that we should not expect from him due process as he is not the court. The executive branch is and should always be the vanguard of due process rights of individuals. As enforcers of the law, it is incumbent upon the executive branch to make sure that protocols and procedures reflect the respect for the due process rights of individuals. The “shoot now, ask questions later” attitude that has been apparent in police operations must be put to an end. We call upon the President to pursue and investigate all cases of extrajudicial killings whether they are perpetrated by vigilantes or law enforcement officers who act with excessive force that rob individuals of their lives.

Regardless of who are responsible for these extrajudicial killings, the government must investigate and account for them. While the government claims that most of these killings are done by vigilantes whose actions are beyond its control, the government must take action to prevent these killings. The unjustified actions done by these vigilantes are still crimes and the government should not turn a blind eye in the name of the "war on drugs."

We invite everyone to join us in calling for the President to take concrete actions by issuing an executive order calling for the PNP and other law enforcement agencies to use lethal force as a last resort and to do a thorough investigation to determine the validity of the use of force by the police in buy-bust operations. Furthermore, the Department of Justice should be immediately directed to investigate all cases of vigilante killings and to identify and prosecute vigilante groups.Let us stop these unjustified killings by eliminating the culture of impunity and violence that has given life to this menace.

Join us in solidarity in condemning these extrajudicial killings by supporting the march around the Academic Oval being organized by the UP Law Community to be held on August 18, 2016 which will be followed by a vigil at the UP Amphitheater.

(The statement was originally released in the UP LSG Facebook Page on August 16, 2016)