NGO: Talks on EJKs should should focus on victims, families left behind
A NONGOVERNMENT organization in Cebu launched the first of what it hopes to be a series of dialogues on extrajudicial killings (EJK) and how to address this concern, especially in the context of violence against women and children.
Kaabag sa Sugbo network coordinator Catherine Ruiz said conversations on EJKs are not just all about numbers but should put an emphasis on putting a face on the victims, more so the families they left behind.
“We wanted to see not just for this concern to surface but to try to find ways forward,” she said during the dialogue at the Archbishop’s Residence in Cebu City on Saturday.
This was the first time Kaabag, a network of 26 social developmental civil society organizations, brought together representatives from its member groups, the academe and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to shed light on the government’s bloody drive against illegal drugs and the spate of alleged summary executions of suspected drug users and dealers in the last six months.
Ruiz said the activity was an offshoot of the 18-day campaign to end violence against women and children (VAWC) and also coincided with the observance of International Human Rights Day.
The world marked the 68th year of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by community nations, the Philippines included, on Dec. 10.
The observance comes amidst the rising number of deaths in the administration’s war on drugs, where close to 5,900 have been killed since July 1 both in legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings, according to Philippine National Police figures.
At least 2,000 drug personalities have been killed in police operations as of Dec. 3 while more than 3,800 are of extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings, as of Nov. 30.
“We are here because we are alarmed. We are here because we are concerned. Rule of law and due process are disrespected. Life is deemed insignificant. The cries for justice of mothers, wives and orphans are ignored,” said Ruiz.
“I can only pray that the images of the daily kills will not deaden and desensitize us,” she added.
Ruiz said she hopes to continue the discourse among state duty-bearers, the church, academe and civil society to find a way for partnership in upholding rights, bringing justice to the bereaved while strengthening the campaign against illegal drugs.
Within Kaabag, she said members like Silaab Foundation has a program on values formation and conversion for those included in the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) “Tokhang” list while Lihok Pilipina Foundation advocates human rights education.
“We have a lot of organizations that are into rights-based approaches in terms of participation in governance at the local level, meaning at the barangay. Since there are already these efforts, it’s only a matter of bringing them together and framing it within everything that is happening,” Ruiz said.
From the government’s side, she added, they expect to see the framework of the PNP and what the CHR is doing about these EJK-related cases at present.
EJK, ELK are the same
During yesterday’s dialogue, CHR-7 chief investigator Leo Villarino said that he does not understand the fuss about calling EJK “extralegal killings” when the two terms are the same.
“It’s the same dog with the same collar,” he said.
According to an Inquirer report, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said it would be a misnomer to call deaths in the drug war as “extrajudicial killings,” adding it has a “very emotional meaning.”
Instead, government agencies will refer to these deaths as “extra-legal killings.”
The Inquirer report quoted DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III as saying the “more generic term” extralegal killings would cover killings committed by the police in self-defense against drug suspects resisting arrest.
But Villarino said whether extrajudicial or extralegal, the definition is the same.
He cited the definition of EJK by the Peruvian Forensics Society, which also calls it ELK, as “the deliberate and unjustifiable killing of a person perpetrated or allowed by persons whose actions are supported by the state or some other official authority but who are acting outside the legal system.”
The group is a civil society composed of forensic experts in Peru that gathered forensic evidence that led to the conviction of ex-Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori for crimes against humanity.
“He was responsible for the many killings in Peru. Even the streets had mass graves,” said Villarino.
He said that the group’s definition of EJK clearly relates to what is happening in the Philippines right now.
Meanwhile, Ruiz cited the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) which recently launched a strategy that would involve drug awareness, values integration and drug enforcement to achieve its target of a “drug-cleared Cebu.”
At present, according to the PNP data, 94.37 percent of 1,006 barangays in the province are affected by illegal drugs.
With regard to alleged EJK killings, the CHR in Central Visayas is monitoring 328 related cases, of which 37 have been docketed.
Ruiz said she had seen a gap in the monitoring aspect and that she would like to know the progress of investigations as well as whether police operations involved in these cases did really follow internal rules of engagement.
She said by next year, they were hoping to sit down with the provincial police and the CHR to come up with a mechanism for better monitoring.
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