PHILIPPINES: KILLINGS – Two more killings: a priest and a judge – a symptom of lawlessness

The killing of a Catholic priest, Jesus Reynaldo Roda of Tawi Tawi and a judge, Roberto Navidad of Calbayog City illustrates how miserable the lives of citizens have become in a cruel environment on the brink of lawlessness. Father Reynaldo was shot on Tuesday while praying in a chapel by gunmen who were trying to abduct him. Judge Roberto was killed by a lone gunman in public on Monday soon after boarding his car.

The perpetrators can go around killing their victims inside their own place and in public. It is not that they have no fear of being identified and arrested but rather the improbability of being held to account that emboldens them. Though it is shocking, similar to previous killings, Father Reynaldo and Judge Roberto had been receiving threats to their lives. Sadly, their subsequent murders no longer come as a surprise.

Targeted killing of persons is nothing new in the Philippines. This phenomenon had been going on for several years now claiming the lives of hundreds of victims. But few of the perpetrators have even been brought to book. Not even the government has acknowledged that the inability of the police and prosecutor to hold the perpetrators to account has allowed these killings to continue. The government has continuously failed to ensure that investigations are effectively carried out to ensure the possibility of effective prosecution of cases. The killing of persons involved in social activism, in this case a priest whose ministry is engage in peace and development and judge performing lawful duties remain unabated.

Father Reynaldo, a member of Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI), is the latest priest to have been abducted or murdered. His congregation is known for their work on peace and development in the conflict areas of Mindanao. Priests and religious leaders have since also been targets of killings there. Judge Roberto, too, is the 15th judge to be murdered since 1999, according to the press release of the Supreme Court. His murder, similar to previous cases, is reported to have had a connection to court cases he had decided. None of the perpetrators in the murders of these judges so far are reported to have been convicted; and their cases largely remain unsolved.

The attack on Judge Roberto is, to all intents and purposes, an attack on the entire judicial institution. Here was a member of the judiciary who was performing his duties to uphold the rule of law becoming, himself, a target of persons who refused to be ruled by the law. This attack against the members of the judiciary is not a new phenomenon there. This has even prompted the Supreme Court (SC) to strengthen security arrangement for their justices and judges at all court levels following incidents of extrajudicial killing in recent times. They hold training sessions for security, improved internal security and issued licensed firearms to judges. Now, not only judges, but also government lawyers are issued with firearms for protection.

Though this may be of help but it raises serious questions about the authorities, particularly the law enforcement agenciesÂ’ ability to protect members of the judiciary and legal professionals. Obviously, carrying firearms is not a reasonable long term solution to the continuing insecurity there. It should be the responsibility of the police and law enforcement officers to afford protection. Handing out firearms to people and expecting them to protect their own lives speaks to the inability of the state to provide this basic right. These are no guarantees that training in security and carrying firearms would prevent them from attack. The issuance of firearms to judges and lawyers just illustrates how cruel the place is and how absurd the country has become.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno has rightly demanded the police urging them to “expedite their investigation” into Judge Roberto’s murder. However, whether his case will make substantial progress compared to other cases of murdered judges and lawyers is a matter for the police investigators. With only two convictions in cases involving extra judicial killings and none involving the murder judges as reported by SC, the police’ capability of dealing with this cases, from providing protection, effective investigations and ensuring possibility of a court conviction, is in serious question.

The previous experiences so far of how the police have dealt with cases reveal that they are largely unable to identify the perpetrators because of their inability to protect and produce credible witnesses. Neither can they ensure that the evidence they gather is sufficient to ensure a possibility of a conviction. The failure of the police in these areas has even resulted in witnesses and families of the dead being subsequently targeted as well. If the cases of murdered judges go unsolved and perpetrators remains unpunished, how can confidence of the people be restored with regard to the police, in particular in resolving cases of the hundreds of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance?

Targeting of families of the dead has also been experienced by relatives of Judge Nathaniel Pattugalan who was murdered in Quezon City in January 2007. He too, had threats on his life before he was killed. It is reported that those responsible for his murder had connections with one of the cases he handled. His family had expressed concern for their safety and security after his murder; however, no known protection has been afforded to them. Prior to Judge Nathaniel was murdered, he had survived an earlier attempt. Those responsible in this attempt on his life are reported to have been involved in his murder.

The murder of judges and lawyers performing their duties to uphold rule of law illustrates how entrenched the lack of security and lawless the situation has become there. Perpetrators of these murders no longer had second thoughts with regard to the eventual impunity. This situation sows fear in members of the judiciary and prevents them from performing their duties. This in turn effectively undermines the judicial institution. It is also sending a strong message that nobody is safe and of how rife impunity is. These perpetrators fully know well that once they kill their targets the likelihood of being held to account is trivial.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-016-2008
Countries : Philippines,