PHILIPPINES: Broken and lawless — reasons why it has become 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is encouraged by the ongoing public discussion and debate on the internet to a Statement that we have issued, titled: Philippines–Broken and lawless nation–killing in front of families. We are also not surprise by the statement of Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr., spokesman of the Philippine National Police (PNP); and Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson of the Office of the President (OP), dismissing the argument contained in our Statement, or any negative description of the country, as not true. We take this as a good opportunity to discuss the reality of this issue.

This type of dismissal is, in fact, the usual habit, daily routine and deeply embedded practice of government spokespersons, or any public officials, regardless of who sits in power. The biggest obstacle to the possibility of rational public discourse to examine how deep the systemic defects in the country’s system of justice is — which permits this “lawlessness” — are the distorted and calculated responses of the public officials by suppressing the facts about the real state of the country. The benchmark for them to make judgment is nothing but: anything negative and critical they must be wrong. It did not matter anymore what the reasoning is, but negative comments cannot be true. For them to accept it would leave us nothing to discuss.

It is also inimical of the government and unintelligible of spokespersons, that are part of the very institutions whose foundations we had criticized as “broken”, to accept the negative picture of the government they represent. The very existence of spokespersons is to win over public opinion in favor of the government, whether the arguments makes sense or not. To succeed, any forms of counter-criticisms–like denial, distortion and to give false sense of the reality — have been part of public relations that spokespersons are obliged to perform.

The AHRC has been informed of the statements by government officials critical of the statement; however, it decides to respond only to the statements of the PNP and the OP spokespersons respectively. The PNP’s dismissal of the Statement as “exaggeration”, “baseless” and a “general assessment” because it only cited two cases of extrajudicial killings are not factual. They argued that the 40 percent reduction on the crime volume this year compared to last year’s is proof that the country is not “lawless”. On the other hand, we have also been informed that the OP spokesperson also said over a radio interview that ‘it was unacceptable’ arguing that two cases could not represent as a description of the entire country but she did not elaborate further.

Since these two spokespersons responded to the Statement, we presume that they have read the full text of our statement which is the subject of their contempt. It would have been incredible for them to make comment without even reading the statement in its full text, which could also happen as this practice are usual habit of spokespersons: to comment broadly without knowing the depth of the issue. This type of response serves only for publicity, public relations and for journalist to extract ‘sound bites’ for their report. No substantial debate is possible if they are based on a broad, general and responses without substantial merit. They could not be taken seriously.

However, since they have put forward three points, we would like to respond to them: firstly, that our judgment had been exaggerated, baseless and general; secondly, that the reduction of crime volume this year compared to 2009 is their proof to reject our description that is for them only a ‘belief’; thirdly, that it did not represent the whole country. The AHRC, for the time being, will focus on explaining below its argument on these three points.

Ignorance, distortion of facts

The two cases mentioned in the Statement, the killing of Reynaldo Labrador and Vicente Felisilda, all in Mindanao, were chosen as they illustrate the recent cases which demonstrate the systemic defects of the country system of justice; and how “broken and lawless” the country has become. They were mentioned on purpose because they illustrate how soldiers, militiamen and individuals murderers targets their victims in their homes, in front of their family; and get away with these murders easily.

The killing of these two fathers, who in Philippine context symbolizes the ‘protector’; have orphaned their children and widowed their wives, as a result of their being targeted for murder and these are stories that are nothing new. However, they still illustrate the continuously increasing number of targeted killings that remain unsolved. None of these cases had any progress in court; no charges had been filed against the perpetrators.

For years, the AHRC has meticulously documented individual cases, not only about extrajudicial killings, but also hundreds of cases human rights violations covering a variety of issues. Each of this cases have also certainly reached to the PNP’s attention through letters of appeal that we sent to them regularly; and on some occasion even on a daily basis. Thus, the PNP’s claims that we rely our judgment only on the two cases has no merit. They are distortion and suppression of facts. They could not be taken seriously.

If the PNP spokesperson is not aware of the hundreds of appeals that we have already sent to them, it would be downright ignorant of him as to what was happening in the police establishment; or, a deliberate act to suppress this fact to distort information to their favor. To use statistics and numbers of cases to deny the existence of a reality is also trivial argument. The role of the police is as investigators of crimes. They are not statisticians or mathematicians. The statistics in itself could not claim absolute accuracy or credibility. They are only credible in analyzing data of crimes that are included in the interpretation of statistics, but not on cases that crimes happened but were not included in the statistics because of victims no longer complaining.

The police has no statistics of their own crimes

Statistics can be a guide for the police on how they should deal with crimes, but they cannot be credible when they do not include crimes that are no longer reported; or, crimes that the policemen are themselves have committed. These are not included in the interpretation of crime volume. They are suppressed from the public knowledge because they are inimical of them. Policemen could not be portrayed as perpetrators of crimes in public. This explains the deep flaws in heavily depending statistical data in making conclusions and to use them as justifications as to the state of security and protection in a country.

Firstly, the police establishment does not routinely interpret and keep their own records of crimes and human rights violations. They also do not record as crime volume the crimes that were committed by the policemen, soldiers and other government security forces. Though they do have complaints recorded against policemen in quasi-judicial bodies they only cover cases where the victims have officially made a complaint. They do not include records of those cases that were not filed as a complaint in these bodies. Only non-governmental organisation (NGOs) are keeping records routinely of the crimes and violations perpetrated by the police — regardless of whether they were filed as formal complaint or not. This is also not enough because the recording depends on the NGOs mandate, mostly records of violations that are political in nature.

Secondly, most of the crimes are no longer ‘officially’ recorded in police stations. This is because complainants are not reporting to the police, particularly when the policemen are themselves involve in this crimes; complainants and witnesses lacks protection which would allow them to report crimes. Thus, the police statistics are nothing more than numerical records which they use in justifying their institutional agenda. They do not speak to the reality. The police establishment decides on what they want the public should only hear and think, to affirm what the policemen had assessed. They are obviously open to manipulation and dishonesty.

The ‘parameters’ that the police establishment had used to dismiss any negative picture of the country are also created to serve their own purposes. The police are the ones who decides what is to be recorded, what information to be collected and included in their analysis and what formula of statistics would be used to analyze this information. The procedures on how the statistics are drawn up are not known to the public. Thus, the police claim that their own statistics are sufficient to deny negative description also has no credibility. Their statistics and report could only qualify as ‘official reports’ but they could not represent the reality.

Not two but one case is enough

Yes. Not two but rather one case is enough to illustrate how “broken and lawless” the country is. With the extent of insecurity and the lack of protection, the Maguindanao massacre case demonstrates the ugly and horrific reality of a society that Filipinos had to live with daily. To dismiss this case as an “isolated incident” that could not give the entire picture of the nation itself is wickedness of the government officials. The extent of lawlessness in this case is unimaginable. It had the largest number of policemen, whom the people thought are the giver of protection, charged with mass murder in a single incident.

Mentally the case exposed as untrue any notion of policing and law enforcement: police as the protectors of life and property, as an establishment where one can ask assistance and file complain and who would enforce laws equally to all without favor. Any notion of what the role of the policemen should have been in a civilized society has been shattered into pieces. The policemen charged in the massacre were nothing but criminals. They took part and conspired in the murders of 58 people, they used their authority to cover-up not only the criminal liability of the principal accused but of themselves; they had enforced, not the laws of the land, but the orders of principal accused who had deliberately thought of planning to murder people in mass under their noses.

This magnitude of massacre could have not possibly happened had the institutional structure of the policing system not allowed its establishment to be politically exploited to become enforcers of influential and powerful. In our previous statements, we have already that the authority and control of local politicians to the functioning of the local police — them having power to choose police commanders to served in their community, to allocate funds for their operation and the incestuous working relationship between politicians and the policemen in their locality — has allowed the policemen to become, not as an institution of the government, but as ‘private armies’.

This massacre also opened a can of worms to the government’s policy of arming civilians. Those included in the charge are paramilitary forces — the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu), under the direct supervision and control of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); and Civilian Volunteers Organisation (CVO), under the Philippine National Police (PNP) that were permitted by the 1987 Constitution under the pretext of getting the civilians involved as ‘force multiplier’ on the counterinsurgency campaign of the government. These paramilitary forces have long been proven to have been responsible for committing the worst forms of human rights violations; and have become the alter ego of the police and soldiers to commit illegal acts without being held to account. The continuing operation and refusal by the present government to disband these paramilitary forces blurred the notion on who has the utmost responsibility to enforce law and order: police or paramilitaries.

By refusing to disband Cafgu, CVOs and Police Auxiliaries (PAXs), the police establishment had abdicated its utmost role of ensuring non-proliferation of loose firearms and to implement laws on firearms control. The very loose guidelines for civilians to obtain firearms, apart from the easy access of buying firearms in black market, itself put at risk the security and safety of the people in the community. The continuing extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders and political activists in open public and broad daylight; scenes where civilians who had no legal authority openly displays carrying and taking possession of firearms; and amongst others, are outright demonstration of the police establishment failure enforce laws on firearms control. In a country where the authority to carry firearms is blurred, it is madness to claim that it is still governed by law.

The most foolish example as to how the police establishment itself, did not only fail, but are themselves violating laws in exercising control of firearms, is the PNP’s yearly unintelligible rituals of plastering with adhesive tape the nozzles of service firearms issued to the PNP personnel a few days before Christmas and New Year. In the Philippines, the police and soldiers have the habit of firing their firearms in open air during Christmas and New Year’s eve. The police establishment performs this ritual, giving a false sense that they were in control of their policemen. How can one expect they can implement laws control when they are the ones violating them?

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-245-2010
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Rule of law,