CHR PROBES DRUG KILLS
At least eight cases that bore the marks of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects are now being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7).
The probe came barely 24 hours after President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirade against human rights advocates questioning his tough anti-crime policies, particularly on the slaying of suspected drug peddlers.
Leo Villarino, CHR-7 chief investigator, said they received a directive from lawyer Diana De Leon of CHR’s Human Rights Protection Office in Manila last July 15, mandating the regional office to conduct an investigation on what could be cases of summary executions.
He declined to reveal details of these cases but said all incidents involved “shootouts” with policemen.
“We need to look into what police say are cases of shootouts. These (investigations) are covered by the memo (from the CHR central office). We already sent subpoenas to concern police units for them to provide us with their own investigation reports,” Villarino told Cebu Daily News yesterday.
Aside from cases of shootouts with the police, the CHR investigator said they were also looking into the slay of suspected criminals by unidentified assailants.
But for now, he said they could not determine yet whether or not there are vigilantes in Cebu.
According to Villarino, the reports on the suspected extrajudicial killings were culled mainly on news reports and he was now calling on the families of the victims to come to the CHR-7 office to file a formal complaint.
We are ready
Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), said they welcomed the investigation by the CHR.
“We’re open to any probe and we will cooperate,” said Taliño, stressing that he personally would not tolerate abuses done by policemen, including extrajudicial killing of criminals.
Since May 19, at least 25 suspected drug personalities, pushers, and users in Cebu and other parts of Central Visayas were killed in an alleged shootout with police in various areas in the region and in Metro Manila.
Among them were Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria, the third most wanted drug personality in the region, who along with his two cohorts, were killed on Banacon Island in Getafe town, Bohol last May 28; and Central Visayas’ top drug personality Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz, who was gunned down in Las Piñas City on June 17 by Cebu-based police operatives.
Taliño maintained that the suspects were killed in legitimate police operations.
He said the concerned policemen need not worry about lawsuits from people claiming to be victims of police brutality and abuse since PRO-7 has a legal team composed of retired justices, judges, government prosecutors and private law practitioners who recently bonded together to defend policemen slapped with charges while in the performance of their official duties.
The group is headed by retired Court of Appeals Justice Isaias Dicdican and retired Judge Silvestre Maamo Jr. of the Regional Trial Court in Cebu City.
“Our legal volunteers are ready,” Taliño said.
Villarino appealed to policemen and private citizens not to take the law into their own hands, saying every person accused of a crime deserves a day in court.
“And even if they are criminals, they should be given the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Who knows they will be cleared of the accusations. That’s better than seeing them dead without even having the opportunity to prove their innocence,” he explained.
Villarino said he understood the sentiments of people who were dismayed with the slow pace of justice in the country.
“Yes, I admit. The wheels of justice grind slowly. But (does) killing suspected criminals speed up the pace of justice in our country? In fact, when we kill a criminal, are we not committing another crime? How can you be better off than a criminal?” he asked.
“People have been impatient and the product of this impatience is the spate of killings we have now. But will these killings solve the case of illegal drugs? We have yet to see whether killing suspected criminals will be the solution to the drug problem,” he added.
Villarino said the suspected drug lords have the right to defend themselves against accusations, regardless of the fact that they could afford to hire good lawyers.
“The law doesn’t state that if you’re an alleged drug lord, you should be denied access to high caliber and capable lawyers. That is unfair and discriminatory,” he said.
In his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday, President Duterte vowed to uphold human rights but said this should not be used as an excuse to destroy the country.
“Human rights must work to uplift human dignity. But human rights cannot be used as a shield or excuse to destroy the country,” he said.
The President received a resounding applause after this statement addressing criticisms of human rights violations following a series of killings since he assumed his post noon of June 30.
Duterte is famously at odds with the CHR, tracing back to the time when he was still mayor of Davao City where vigilante killings of criminals were rampant.
He promised to continue his relentless war against drugs amid the execution of suspected drug lords and pushers.
Villarino said he didn’t find anything wrong with Duterte’s pronouncements during the Sona, particularly with regards to human rights.
“It only shows he knows that the CHR has authority to conduct investigations. He was correct when he said that ‘human rights must work to uplift human dignity.’ That’s the precise duty of government,” he said.
While he lauded President Duterte’s campaign to eliminate illegal drugs, Villarino said it should be done the right way.
“We’re happy that the government is finally doing its job in promoting peace and solving criminality by exercising police power for the general welfare of its citizenry,” he said.
“But what does an ordinary citizen have against the awesome powers of government? If you’re a suspected drug pusher or criminal, what you only have is the guarantee under the constitution so the government will not abuse its power,” he said.
Taliño on Monday said he received a text message on July 21 from an unnamed group, which he suspected to a vigilante group, that volunteered to help the police kill those engaged in the illegal drugs trade.
Taliño said he advised the group not to take the law into their own hands and instead relay the information to the police so they could work on it.
Since then, at least three suspected drug users and a pusher were gunned down by unidentified persons in different areas in Cebu.
Two persons — Roldan Cuizon, 30, and Wilson Cuizon, 23, — were shot dead by unknown assailants while purportedly having a pot session in Barangay Buaya, Lapu-Lapu City last July 22.
On the same day, Bonie “Sadam” Ponce, an alleged drug pusher in Danao City, was gunned down by two unidentified men on board a motorcycle. The victim was left dead with a written note that said, “Pusher ako, wag ninyo tularan.”
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