Issue of September 17, 2017
Mt. Province

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A call to end extra-judicial killings

The deaths of three youths – Kian delos Santos during a police drug raid, and Carl Arnaiz who was with Reynaldo de Guzman during an alleged taxi holdup incident which led to their killings – invite more questions than answers because of conflicting versions surrounding the circumstances of their deaths.

Official accounts have it that delos Santos and Arnaiz died in a shootout with police, while de Guzman was found dead floating in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija with 30 stab wounds – his entire face wrapped in packing tape. Further investigations poke holes at the police versions where contrary evidence indicate that delos Santos was shot while kneeling and did not fight back, while Arnaiz was handcuffed suggesting he could not wield a gun if ever he owned one. His companion, de Guzman, was moved to another place where the condition of his body when found indicated no other motive by the perpetrators than to kill him under the most gruesome and cruel of circumstances.

What is disconcerting in these scenarios is that the official explanation challenges credulity. The inconsistencies of the police versions in explaining what they insist to be “legitimate” police operations, against forensic evidence and statements from witnesses, do not allow for an outright acceptance of official accounts. What is more unsettling is when the personal histories of these fatalities are considered: delos Santos was a 17-year-old senior high school student; Arnaiz was 19 years old and once a University of the Philippines student while de Guzman was merely 14 years old.

While it can be argued that their relative young ages do not make them incapable of engaging in drug trade, drug use, or even robbery-holdup, bullets and knives have effectively taken the place of an accused person’s day in court. And this is just as disconcerting. The lack of conviction in the official accounts surrounding the deaths of these youths explains why there is persistence in the argument that their killings were in fact extra-judicial.

The oft-cited tagline of the government that the present campaign against the proliferation of illegal drugs is a “war” is likely mistaken by law enforcers as a cue to operate without the intent to bring suspects into legal custody. In this manner, raids and roundups are implemented purposely to eradicate suspected drug-users and drug-users summary execution-style.

This course of action, while lauded by the President and his closest supporters, proceeds to destabilize the government’s systems to maintain social order particularly the time-honored precepts on justice, anchored on due process and a respect for human rights. A lack of respect for these institutions, to say the least, erodes these foundations of social order and will result in a dysfunctional society.

The manifestation of a dysfunctional society is right now evinced in a prevailing climate of fear permeating across the populace. There is no longer the normal conduct of a person who decides out of an abundance of caution, but rather this is a response to a situation where the average citizen could no longer trust the system of law enforcement or its law enforcers.

The campaign against the proliferation of illegal drugs is a global concern and should logically merit support from the populace. However, the lack of acknowledgement from government that this is a social problem resolved in part by law enforcement, is a matter that should be called out while we denounce in the strongest possible terms the extra-legal means of engagement with the problem which does nothing but to target the poor as well as individuals who are at the fringes of society.

Our authorities should coordinate with international law enforcers in targeting cartels and big-time suppliers that cause illegal substances to proliferate in the streets. Law enforcement should focus on large-scale distributors and dealers with the goal to eradicate and terminate their operations.

The University Council of the University of the Philippines Baguio, the highest policy-making body in the University, calls on the Duterte administration to prosecute the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, end extra-judicial killings, and implement a comprehensive solution to the drug problem.

A comprehensive program to address the problem of drugs will not yield instantaneous results by any means. But a truly functioning society, aided by the public’s full trust and confidence in the institutions that promote a stable and enduring society, is preferred over a law enforcement method that is palliative and oppressive for its mailed-fist tendencies.

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