WHAT PEACE, WHAT ORDER? by Leila M. de Lima, CHR chair

Is there anyone present here today who completely understands why the Commission on Human Rights absolutely MUST conduct this public hearing? There is no doubt as to the Constitutional power of the Commission to call for a public hearing for the purpose of engaging in a large-scale investigation into what is the most audacious spate of localized criminal violations against the right to life in our times. We are here to uncover the truth. It cannot be stated more succinctly – we are here to put a stop to these vigilante-style killings.

Is the Commission really capable of doing this? For all the doubts or criticisms leveled against the CHR, for its limited mandate, its perceived ineffectiveness, for being simply a “paper tiger” or “toothless tiger,” throughout its existence, all of you, be forewarned. We are here to test both the persuasive and the coercive limits of what this Commission can do. For all of you who have been following the progress of the Commission over the past year, you will know that we have been right in the face of every imaginable human rights violation, and this vile Davao Death Squad phenomenon will be no exception.

While the Commission is indubitably empowered to investigate this, many of you may ask why should we in the first place.

I do know that it is in this audience, a consolidation of the governmental powers of Davao City and an assembly of diverse actors, where the answers to the truth behind the Davao Death Squad lies. I know that you know. I know that it is impossible for all of you not to know anything at all about the rash of vigilante killings that have remained the outstanding quality of Davao City.

The pride of the local government of Davao City is that the peace and order situation here is outstanding. It is so peaceful and orderly here that investment and tourism should flourish. It is so peaceful and orderly that criminals from other regions and countries dare not set shop here.

If it were so peaceful and orderly, had it not occurred to anyone how paradoxical it is to make such a claim while killings remain rampant? It is completely incongruous to say it is peaceful and orderly when vigilantism is so commonplace, so pedestrian, it is almost a way of life around here. I dare say, and warn everyone who wishes to visit this city, that peace and order is NOT a quality of Davao City.

There are those who incorrectly lay the predicate that because criminality is punished with death in Davao City, illegal activities are suppressed. Mind you, throughout the country, state-sponsored killing, referring to the death-penalty handed down by a duly constituted court, no longer exists. Additionally, if the crime rate is low, is there proof that illegal drugs do not circulate in Davao City? What about thievery? What about corruption? What about bribery? What about dereliction of public duty? And the worst of these, what about murder? Is Davao City, then, truly peaceful and orderly?

I am certain that you have read and followed the
campaign against extrajudicial or extralegal killings throughout the country. You have watched how the various segments of society have banded together to find a way to solve activist and media killings. We have seen civil society and the government work together to exert every effort to put an end to rouge military officials and members of the state security forces who perpetuate torture and assassinations. You have all seen the consensus of the Filipino people against extralegal killings, against executions.

How different, then, is vigilantism from extralegal killings? It isn't. The term “extralegal” has been defined in law, and adopted by the Supreme Court as “that which is done, given or effected outside of regular judicial proceedings”. Killings done extralegally are, thus, those done without regular judicial proceedings. Since there is no death penalty anymore in this jurisdiction, there is no circumstance where killing can be lawfully sponsored to begin with. Finer definitions include the element of governmental policy at any level aimed at eliminating certain individuals as opposed to arresting them, and commission of killings by the state or unit of the state or condoning the same, with the act being deliberate.

What we have here in Davao City is not any ordinary brand of vigilantism. If it were private interests alone motivating the killings, then it would not be within the purview of extralegal killings. While we do not categorically know if it is private interest, public interest or both, behind the vigilante killings here, what we do know are the following:

1.                       That the Davao City Local Government prides itself in its peacefulness and orderliness despite an unabated string of vigilante killings since 1998; and

2.                       That the same local government has failed time and again to put an end to this brand of criminality despite claiming a general hard-line stance against criminals.  Most of the killings, are to date, unresolved. The perpetrators are nameless or unidentified.  They seem beyond the reach of the law and the justice system.  Impunity is there for everyone to see.  Witnesses fail to surface.  Is the excuse of “no available witness” acceptable?  Is the “non-availability” based on the non-existence of an actual witness or are people simply afraid to stand as witnesses?  Or are authorities not diligent enough to access the witnesses?

If it were a case of ineptitude infecting the Davao City LGU, being unable to catch criminals in its own backyard, then at least admit that you need the help of the National Government. But here is the rub – no one here, from the police, the prosecutors, and the local government officials, will admit ineptitude. No one CAN admit being inept especially since Davao City public officials openly announce how peaceful and orderly the city is. No one can admit ineptitude in spite of the fact that the modus operandi of these vigilantes is serial and the same, where killers do not even cover their faces. No one can admit ineptitude considering that the local government has so thoroughly dominated the city, that entire genres of criminal gangs have been wiped out, except vigilantes.

So if it is not ineptitude, what then accounts for the predominantly unsolved vigilante-style killings in this city?  We need to know.  We must know.  You must tell us. 

This Davao Death Squad hoopla is exactly what we term as extralegal killings. It is the same kind of killing to which vast resources of government have been allocated to arrest, quash and eliminate. We have been on the campaign everywhere to end extralegal killings, and Davao City cannot be an exception.

Does it not shock you when suspected enemies of the State are punished without due process, without trial? Does it not shock you when they are executed, considering that any form of execution no longer remains lawful in the country? Does it not shock you that on mere allegation or suspicion, even if it were true, that the undesirables or misguided elements of your society are captured, judged and executed in one full swipe? That the persons who corner suspects are allowed to judge whether another human being deserves to live or die?

If it does not shock you, because the price is peace and order, what peace, what order does the local government gift to the people of Davao City at the expense of the same rights that are granted to law-abiding persons? All of us here think that because we are law-abiding, we will not be executed. You think your children will not be executed. Never. If you think these suspected drug-pushers, vagrants, gang members, or juvenile offenders do not deserve the same rights you or your children enjoy, then imagine a situation where someone rightfully or wrongfully alleges that you or your child is a criminal. Don't you think your child deserves the right to due process before a duly constituted and impartial court? Do you think some hired assassin should have the power to decide if your child should have a right to due process, to live or die?  Does a mother, like Nanay Clarita Alia, deserve to lose four (4) sons – who, being minors, actually needed redemption from their waylaid juvenile lives, instead of their lives summarily snuffed out?

Everywhere else, this situation of extralegal killings is shockingly intolerable. And I dare, yet again, say that even here in Davao City, there are those who believe it is shockingly intolerable. Among yourselves, government officials and private citizens alike, there are those who believe that this is intolerable. What peace, what order, do we gift to the people of Davao City if no one is free to speak their intolerance for vigilante killings for fear for their own lives?

We are made to believe that there is no alternative to condoning these vigilante activities – that if we openly combat vigilantism, the price we pay is the loss of peace and order. Why must we live at extr
emes? Can we not have bona fide peace and order without extralegal killings? Can we not assume a hard-line stance against criminality and still respect the right to life and due process? Can we not face off with criminal elements without stooping to their lawlessness?

The statistics differ as to how many have been killed by vigilantes. In one report, at least 538 people have been killed, including 185 young adults and 45 minors since 1998. Children are being executed. Nowhere in the world, nowhere in the human race is the killing of minors acceptable. The numbers vary, perhaps exaggerated or downplayed. But without falling into the trap of statistics, to gauge our dismay based on numbers, it must suffice that its mere existence should be unacceptable, regardless of the numbers. It is a black mark on Davao City however you look at the figures.

More than the statistics, and more than putting an end to vigilante killings, this probe seeks to save the psyche of the  Davaoeños – to remove this terrible stigma over their city, to lift the fear for their own rights and for their own lives. We seek to instill the assurance that when you commit a wrong, you will be deprived of your liberty by a court of law, not deprived of your life by gun-toting scalawags.

What then is the purpose for this public inquiry? Why has the Commission called on so many government officials together and invited various other personalities and groups? We must determine the true extent of extralegal killings in Davao City, and its implication on a genuine vision of peace and order. We must examine the reasons and causes for the persistence of vigilantism and to explore the measures we can take to end this criminality. The Commission has called on all of you, to consolidate the support of the local government in this intrepid endeavor.

It is to challenge you to break this status quo of unbridled killings. It is a challenge to you to examine yourselves, and your families and children, and the rights they bear which should be respected. It is a challenge to all of you to surpass my expectation that ALL of you who are no different from the rest of the Davaoeños who secretly live in fear, will not speak up. It is a challenge for all of you to speak up and against the dreadful specter of the Davao Death Squad, or whatever it is called. It is a challenge to you to educate the people of their rights, to protect their rights, whether they abide or contravene the law. It is a challenge to be part of the solution of human rights protection.

I know that you know. Please do not waste our time with platitudes, or rhetoric.  To those who truly have the strength of character and courage, be upstanding, and help us with information, help us with leads, with witnesses. Help this city shed this awful, dreadful malaise. 

Normally I end with thanks, but on this occasion, I will reserve general thank yous, and only in advance, I thank those who will able to meaningfully meet out our challenge. Maraming salamat po. (CHR Chair Leila M. De Lima)