PHILIPPINES: Police “solve” cases but killings continue

The Philippine National Police have a unique definition of the word “solved”. According to them, once a charge is filed against a suspect with the Office of the Prosecutor it is solved. Suspects not arrested? No matter, it is solved. Investigation flawed? No matter, it is solved. Requests of victim’s family for more inquiries unanswered? No matter, it is solved. Witnesses got no protection? No matter… Once the case is with the prosecutor, they reason, their job is done. What happens after that is someone else’s business.


This approach has serious implications for victims of the relentless extrajudicial killings and other grave abuses of human rights going on in the Philippines. Take the case of slain activists George and Maricel Vigo, a husband and wife who were killed this June 19 in Kidapawan City. A special unit was set up to probe the killings and it promptly identified and filed criminal charges against the alleged perpetrators. Despite deep dissatisfaction with its findings among the victims’ relatives, the unit is reportedly refusing to make further inquiries. It also apparently could not care less about the grave security threats to witnesses and family members. Case solved.


When labour leader Gerardo Cristobal survived an attack on April 28–allegedly by policemen attached to Imus Police Station, Cavite–he was himself charged with frustrated murder by police investigators on that same day. Those who filed charges against him are the subordinates of those who have been accused of attacking him. There has been no impartial investigation to look into the alleged attempt on Cristobal’s life. He has been charged; case solved.


The killing of a soldier during a February 10 raid at a military detachment in Cabiten, Mankayan, Benguet led to the filing of robbery with homicide charges against 11 persons whom the police illegally arrested and allegedly tortured in Buguias two days later. Although the court ruled that the arrest was illegal, still the police have insisted on filing the case. Again, there has been no impartial and independent investigation into the torture allegations in this “solved” case.


Solving cases is all about performance efficiency. No doubt it suits the purposes of the PNP to lower the bar for what qualifies as a solved case because it gives a better impression of its supposed efficiency. Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. While it is true that police authority is limited to conducting investigations and filing charges in court, efficiency rest on the outcomes of those cases: whether or not the real perpetrators are charged; whether or not the investigation has been done properly; whether or not the case stands up in court; whether or not the witnesses and relatives of a victim are free from threats and attacks. By any of these measures, the work of the Philippine police is a dismal failure and “solved” cases are few. The effect of encouraging police to “solve” cases simply by getting them into court is in fact to encourage them to rush inquiries, torture innocent persons, neglect the needs and protests of concerned persons and ignore all the consequences.


The duty of the police does not end with the filing of a case with a prosecutor. It ends only when justice has been duly served. It involves sincerity in dealings with the victims and their families. The filing of charges is merely one step in the lengthy criminal justice process: a process that is established in order to safely determine guilt and measure punishment. Unfortunately, in the Philippines today this is a little-understood notion among the country’s police.


The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the Philippine National Police to cease with the absurd notion that cases are solved when they are filed in court and calls upon the police to recognise the responsibilities incumbent upon them throughout the entire justice process. It calls upon the police to recognise their special responsibilities to witnesses and families of the victims of extrajudicial killings. And it calls upon the government of the Philippines to dispense with petty and meaningless notions of efficiency and get serious about the relentless murders of community and peasant leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, clergy and others that are going on with its tacit approval. Ending the killings is a matter of policy. If the government decides to act, if the police decide to play their role responsibly rather than fraudulently, then it can be done. If not it will be subject to growing international censure over its inaction, and growing suspicions that it has no interest in protecting the lives of its citizens.