And Then There Were None? Questioning the Existence of EJKs
“TO ALLAY or remove their fear, let it be known that under the present administration, there is only one case of extrajudicial killing or EJK for the period July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017,” PNP Spokesperson Dionardo Carlos told the media on October 6, downplaying the Social Weather Stations Survey (SWS) that showed 73 percent of Filipinos are afraid of becoming EJK victims.
Carlos retracted the statement on the same day, saying that the lone EJK case—the murder of Catanduanes journalist Larry Que—was not yet confirmed. In defining what EJK is, the police quoted Administrative Order (AO) 35, which created in 2012 the inter-agency committee to investigate the killings of journalists and members of cause-oriented groups, specifically, by state or non-state actors.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also adopted this AO, as he told the UN Human Rights Commission and Al Jazeera that when Rodrigo Duterte assumed presidency, critics of his war on drugs “changed” the definition because they labeled the killings by the police during anti-drug operations as EJKs.
In the absence of a law defining what EJKs are, can the AO’s definition of EJK have national application?
CMFR cheers Philstar.com and Vera Files for reviewing the definition of extrajudicial killings in the Philippine context.
Last October 7, Philstar.com recalled what sources said in its report published on May 10, 2017: “using AO 35 as basis of EJK definition is restrictive and inapplicable.”
The report cited Rose Trajano, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates Secretary General: “The general definition of EJKs, even at the international level, is any death sanctioned or with the acquiescence of the government outside the due process or the rule of law.” Atty. Jacqueline de Guia, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Spokesperson, agreed, saying that based on the 2009 statement of Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, EJKs are defined by international law as killings either by state or non-state forces which the government “fails to investigate, prosecute and punish.”
Karen Gomez Dumpit, Human Rights Commissioner, previously told Philstar.com that AO 35 only represents a “prioritization” of EJKs occurring at the specific time of its issuance.
In a separate report, Philstar.com also fact-checked Cayetano’s claims in his interview with Al Jazeera. Contrary to the Cayetano’s definition of EJK, “The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights defines extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions as the “deprivation of life without full judicial and legal process, and with the involvement, complicity, tolerance or acquiescence of the government or its agents.”
Philstar.com said the CHR abides by this definition. It added that in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that EJKs are “killings committed without due process of law, i.e., without legal safeguards or judicial proceedings.”
VERA Files, doing its own fact-check last October 12, also pointed out false claims by Cayetano “which have already been debunked in media,” including the supposed change in EJK definition. Vera Files added that since AO 35 is “an order and not a law, it doesn’t provide a comprehensive definition of EJKs.”
In his column also on Philstar.com, Federico Pascual, Jr. said, “It would seem now that a suspected drug pusher/addict who is not a member of a cause-oriented group could be killed without his death being counted as an EJK. Cayetano said that killings outside the categories in AO 35 are considered either as homicide or murder.”
Pascual argued that the government might not be keen on enacting a “universally acceptable” definition of EJKs, as they have apparently settled with a convenient one. He included the opinion of lawyer Mel Sta. Maria in his article: “Although it is not yet a legal term in our statute, EJK is now specially used to highlight its gravitas over and above the other types of murder — the brutal extermination of ordinary people, especially the poor, caused or executed by state and non-state actors.”
Context and research always help in either reinforcing or debunking government claims. Philstar.com and VERA Files did well in recalling past reports and continuing to fact-check officials’ statements. As the killings in the drug war continue to rise, the public needs to be informed about progress in the investigations of these alleged EJKs or what the PNP had classified as “deaths under investigation” (DUI).