Lawyers’ group slams drug killings

DEMAND FOR JUSTICE. More than 2,000 who joined the Pambansang Lakbayan from different regions arrive at the Bonifacio Shrine in Manila Thursday for a protest action to condemn the Duterte administration and demand justice in the escalating attacks against communities in the countryside, tribes, schools, extrajudicial killings—with the group lighting a torch before continuing their march to Mendiola, about two kilometers away.

MANILA — The national organization of lawyers urged the Duterte administration to be more transparent in its anti-drug campaign following the killing of 17-year-old student Kian Loyd delos Santos in a police operation on Aug. 16.

“In this frenzied fight against prohibited drugs, the nation stands witness to a series of killings, summary executions, and cold-blooded murder,” the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said in a strongly worded statement.

The 55,000-strong IBP said that apart from Kian, 91 others were reported dead as a result of police operations dubbed “Operation One Time Big Time” in the National Capital Region and in the provinces of Bulacan and Cavite from Aug. 13 to 20.

“We thus urge the national police forces to release information such as pre-operation and spot reports on the aforesaid “Operation One Time Big Time,” in line with Executive Order No. 02, series of 2016,” the IBP said, citing the right to information under Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution.

While the IBP voiced its support for the administration’s goal to address the “growing menace” of illegal drugs, the group also said that “the underground business behind it has gained protection from certain unscrupulous public officers and law enforcers who continue to benefit from its profit.”

The IBP also noted how the need to act “has led to the mistaken collective sense that there must be actual physical casualty in its wake―whether direct or collateral.”

Amid mounting pressure against the killings, President Rodrigo Duterte said he can defend his call to kill people involved in the illegal drug trade, even to Jesus Christ.

“They keep on hankering on my statement that, ‘If you destroy my country, I will kill you.’ That is a very legitimate statement of a leader of a nation. And when I say that I will kill you if you destroy the young of this country, nobody can argue with that statement, even if I face Jesus Christ,” Duterte said in a speech before star-rank officers at Malacañang on Wednesday.

“I keep on saying, ‘Do not ruin the lives of Filipinos.’ These stupid [critics], since they are already rich, do not understand that it [drug war] is really a fight for life,” he added.

The President had earlier branded as “bullsh*t” calls by his European critics, including UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, to stop the killings in the wake of the Delos Santos case.

But Duterte said if he stops fighting drugs, more families will become “dysfunctional.”

He added that those who criticize his bloody drug war would lead the country into great perdition.

“Today, we have a great opportunity to finally rid of our nation of its many problems and usher in real, lasting and meaningful change,” the President said. “But some people don’t get that.” 

Kian, a Grade 11 student, was killed Aug. 16 in a city-wide anti-drug operation in Caloocan City, with the policemen claiming the teenager had fired at them first, prompting them to shoot back and kill the boy.

But this account was contradicted by CCTV footage, eyewitnesses and autopsy findings that showed Kian did not fire a gun before he died.

The Justice Department has already created a three-member panel to conduct the preliminary investigation of the complaint.

Callamard on Thursday continued her word war with the President, who had challenged her to a debate, saying her investigation of the bloody drug war was “not a vehicle for entertainment, theatrics or politicking.”

In a series of posts on her Twitter account, Callamard said the conditions Duterte wanted to impose on any investigation into his anti-drug campaign was against the code of conduct and terms of reference for UN special rapporteurs.

“An official visit without respect for the victims, respect for the law, respect for due process would be unacceptable,” Callamard said.

Duterte, however, continued his tirades against Callamard, saying that France and the rest of the European Union could not understand that the country’s Revised Penal Code, which was about retribution.

“Our Revised Penal Code is [about] retribution. It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That’s the basic law of a jungle. If you committed something wrong and you killed a person, you should pay it with your life,” Duterte, who was once a prosecutor, said.
“Until now, we lawyers would tell you [that the punishments in place] were reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua. Have you not noticed that? It is basically retribution,” he added.

The President earlier chided Callamard for refusing to have a public debate with him on the country’s drug problem.

“Come here. But she does not want to have a debate. In five questions, I will make that crazy [woman] look like a fool,” the President said.

Callamard said she had written the Philippine government to explain the “inconsistencies” of Duterte’s conditions on Dec. 15, 2016.

Duterte has set three conditions for Callamard’s visit: a public debate between the two of them, the President should be able to ask his own questions, and the Special Rapporteur should be questioned under oath.

Retired Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles on Thursday said all police and other law enforcement agencies engaged in anti-drug operations should undergo intense spiritual formation to understand the importance of human life and to value human dignity.

The former Lipa archbishop also reacted to proposals requiring police to wear body cameras during operations amid growing public outrage against the drug-related killings under the government’s war on drugs.

“If they have an evil heart they will do evil no matter what you place in their body,” he said.

Also on Thursday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II denied that he had accused the opposition Liberal Party of trying to bribe the parents of slain student Kian Loyd delos Santos with P2 million to join political rallies against the Duterte administration.

Aguirre said he was not the source of the allegation, but admitted having been asked about it during a radio interview on Wednesday.
“I was asked during the interview if there was such an offer to the family of Kian. I said I also heard something about it but I did not mention any amount,” Aguirre said.

The Justice secretary even recalled that he did not mention the Liberal Party during the interview.

In a statement last Wednesday, the LP denied the bribery attempt and called for the resignation of Aguirre for “diminishing the stature of his office” due to his “repeated issuances of erroneous claims.”

The opposition party said it was not the first time that Aguirre made the accusation against the party, citing the previous instance when the secretary accused Senator Francis Pangilinan, Leila de Lima, and Antonio Trillanes IV of being behind a supposed plot to implicate him in the bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration. Aguirre later on apologized to the senators.

Reacting to the LP statement, Aguirre said his stay in the Department of Justice would depend on President Duterte’s trust.

“I serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority, the President, and not of any political party,” he said.

The Palace on Thursday said the President reminded police to follow the rules of engagement in their anti-drug operations amid allegations of police abuses.

Following a command conference led by Duterte on the 100th Day of the Marawi siege Wednesday, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said that while the President said it was in the interest of the nation that it have a strong police force, the Philippine National Police should “observe all protocols in the enforcement of the law and effecting an arrest.”