Hongkong rights group slams Davao for killings

Sep. 03, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: Police and prosecutor’s failure emboldens killings of alleged criminals

In recent months several dead bodies had been found in the streets of Manila with placards about their necks or bodies suggesting that they were criminals. When two corpses were found at the Manila’s downtown area in Sta. Cruz district, the placards suggests they were thieves and warning others, supposedly not to do the same, or they would suffer the same fate. Four days earlier, two more corpses were found in Greater Lagro in nearby city of Quezon, also in Manila. The report suggests they are victims of summary executions.

Discoveries of dead bodies in several areas in Manila; for instance along a river, crowded street or vacant lots, have increased in recent times. Some of the corpses were mutilated with body parts spread in different areas making it difficult to identify them. Such was the condition of some of the bodies that they could no longer be identified. This denies the possibility of determining the circumstances behind their brutal deaths. In fact, the corpses cannot be identified and their loved ones will never know what has happened to them. They are forced to suffer their loss without any hope of redress or remedy.

What is happening is entirely the failure of the existing mechanism; for instance the police investigation and prosecution systems fails to effectively function, thereby permitting the perpetrators to continue murdering persons with impunity, without due process and to escape the responsibility for their heinous crimes. Once corpses are found, although the police carry out their duty by investigating the crime scene, in these cases the objective is more to identify the body than to investigate who killed him/them or the circumstances behind their deaths. The placing of placards as well had become a convenient excuse for the police to quickly suggest, even without conducting further investigation, that the victim is a criminal offender. The terrible unspoken question is: why investigate the death of a criminal.

Whether victims are criminal offenders or not though, to murder them in the absence of due process is completely unacceptable. The usual practice of the police to quickly suggest they are criminals, which effectively sends a message to the public that they deserved to die is being tolerated.

It is not the police or the public that decides who is a criminal but the court after due process of law!

For the police to take upon themselves the decision to make such an announcement is tantamount to subverting the authority of the courts. It effectively dilutes the principles of presumption of innocence and outright denial of due process. Criminals or not, they deserved equal protection of law and right to life is fundamental. This practice, however, is common all over the Philippines.

For instance, in Davao City in Mindanao, several corpses were found bearing placards similarly suggesting they that were criminal offenders. What is shocking is the implied acceptance by the authorities and the public regarding this practice without seriously reflecting on the tremendous implications if it is allowed to continue. The police quickly suggests the victims are killed for their criminal activities, the public thereby tends to believe the police in the absence of thorough investigation. Little attention is paid as to the circumstance behind the victims’ death which eventually legitimizes his death on pretext of his criminal activity. Once he is labeled a criminal or recidivist offender, there is a likelihood that he could be killed and his death would eventually be justified. However, in recent times there have been victims who after checking their background, had nothing to do with criminal elements nor had known enemies at all.

Once there are suspicious deaths, the police’ investigators are required to collect and gather evidence, not only for identification but to ensure the evidence could be use for effective prosecution of the case in court. The prosecutors, as stipulated under the Department of Justice (DoJ) Circular No. 16, Section 16, on New Rules on Inquest clearly stipulates that:

..on cases of suspicious deaths Inquest Officers (prosecutors) are required to proceed to crime scene and direct the police investigation. The prosecutors, however, have not been doing this legal requirement as part of their routine inquest duties. They are instead heavily depending on information provided to them by the police; for instance on cases requiring forensic expertise, some police likewise investigates on their own as if they are skilled even on areas where are not, and it requires knowledge on forensic investigation.

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