PHILIPPINES: KILLINGS — Claims of police efficiency at odds with reality

In a functioning criminal justice system, offenders of a crime are given an appropriate punishment following prompt and effective judicial proceedings. In the Philippines, however, it is commonly expected that perpetrators of the worst forms of human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and torture will be exonerated and freed after being charged in court.

When director Jefferson Soriano, the chief of the special investigating body Task Force Usig, once again reported to the media of their accomplishment that they have identified the police and soldiers involved in the murder of activists and journalist, on January 10, it was obvious to the observers that they too will eventually be exonerated. Soriano’s report though was a repetition of a previous report which illustrates the lack of the possibility of effectively prosecuting the perpetrators in court following their arrest and filing of charges by the police; and the lack of progress of cases.

A report by an online tabloid, Journal Online, indicates that out of the three policemen and ten soldiers charged separately in courts by Task Force Usig, only one has been convicted, two others are in jail awaiting trial and the rest had their charges dismissed by the court and prosecutor for lack of sufficient evidence. The so-called accomplishments of the police largely involve cases of the killings of journalists, rather than human rights and political activists. The report covers cases from the period of year 2002 to 2007.

The supposed target of the task force, set in August 2006 was to resolve at least ten cases of extrajudicial killings every other ten weeks. Not surprisingly this has not been convincingly complied with. They do file charges but they do not progress in court or are dismissed. Even if they have met the targets, as they claimed, the witnesses and complainants lack interest in pursuing the case which effectively results in the cases being dismissed. The lack of witnesses has resulted to the improbability of producing sufficient evidence to ensure conviction.

It is the duty of the police to protect or recommend to another government agency, particularly the Department of Justice (DoJ), the witnesses under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Programme. This should have been essential for them in pursuing cases in court yet they repeatedly fail to do so. It has been proven that lack of protection frightens witnesses and complainants into pursuing their cases. In reality though this mechanism simply does not function or the practice it self does not exist at all. Not only has the DoJ had been unable to effectively implement this programme, Task Force Usig itself repeatedly fails to take prompt and adequate action to protect the families of murdered activist facing threats; for instance, the family of activist Jose Manegdeg III murdered in November 2005.

A soldier who was accused of murdering Manegdeg was exonerated after the prosecutor dismissed the police complaint for lack of sufficient evidence; and the witness who might have identified him also retracted his statement out of fear. The case did not even reach court. Had the police acted promptly to protect the witness and Manegdeg’s family, it would have been possible to effectively prosecute the soldier. But this did not happen.

Had it happened in Hong Kong or any developed country, any circumstances that threaten the life or safety of a person would be acted upon promptly and seriously. Even a person who sees a snake at the roadside or a mother whose child accidentally locked inside a room without a key, can call for police assistance and expect then to arrive in about five to ten minutes. The police take upon themselves the responsibility of ensuring the safety of a person. However, in the Philippines, despite imminent danger and threats to a person¬ís life the police hardly respond. It explains why Manegdeg’s family, despite repeated appeals to Task Force Usig asking for protection, they were not given protection at all.

When the victim’s families, complainants and the witnesses refuse to pursue the complaints in court or testify for trial, they would then get the blame of not cooperating with the police. The authorities and the police fail to comprehend why it is so and what they can do? It is expected that complainants and witnesses will not cooperate or pursue cases in court as it is virtually committing suicide. How could they be convinced when the police cannot even provide a rudimentary form of protection? The police may be able to investigate the cases, identify and charge the perpetrator but it is a meaningless and useless exercise if the perpetrators are later exonerated and freed.

Apart from failing to provide rudimentary protection, the police take a hard line position and discriminate against activists and groups helping the victims. They, too, are preoccupied that criticism against them is not constructive, but rather purely propaganda; therefore, anything that is being said does not deserve their attention. The result of this is that there is a growing reluctance to cooperate with the police as they have lost their credibility to perform their duties. The role of the police has stagnated into merely documenting of cases and recording complaints, but the supposed adequate action following documentation hardly takes place. The police and the Task Force Usig are instead seen as government’s public relations officers in defending its human rights records than a civilian institution obligated to protect the citizens and responsible in enforcing laws to prosecute the offenders of crimes.

In December 2007, the police’ inaction to protect a bishop and three priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) explains how dogmatic the policemen have become in responding to, investigating and treating complaints of persons facing threats. These persons, similar to many others, had begun receiving threats as early as 2005. None of them obtained any form of security and protection despite the continuing threats they suffer. Once the police records a complaint, to consider giving a person protection does not necessarily follow, as it should in principle. The one who is facing threats or the group to which he or she is attach, are the ones responsible of ensuring security, not the police.

It explains why, to the several persons who receive continuing threats or have survived earlier attempts on their lives, seeking protection from the police is not an option. They do make reports to the police but have no expectation that they will make any effort to identify those responsible of making threats and who have attempted to kill them. Therefore, any claims by the police of their efficiency, particular on cases involving extrajudicial killings they would always remain contrary and at odds to the reality in the Philippines.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-009-2008
Countries : Philippines,