WE DIDN’T see that one coming, the “Zero EJK” phenomenon – the sudden disappearance from government statistics of the thousands of Extra-judicial Killings associated with President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal anti-narcotic campaign.
(But we can’t be sure yet if this is not another sick joke since President Duterte has not declared officially that Zero (0) is his administration’s official count of the persons executed on-the-spot in his 15-month-old drug war. He might still change the definition of EJK.)
We first heard of “Zero EJK” when Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano was cornered in a TV interview with Al Jezeerah on human rights violations for which the administration has been eliciting negative opinion worldwide. The interview video was uploaded Friday.
Pressed by AJ host Mehdi Hasan, an award-winning British journalist, Cayetano wiggled out by saying that there are actually no EJKs in the Philippines! His boss President Duterte should award him a medal for defending the indefensible, for lying in the face of contrary facts.
Reworking casualty figures, Cayetano claimed that the 3,800 or so Filipinos killed by police raiders were all drug dealers. He did not explain who a dealer is or why a dealer should be shot on site. Some 2,300 “deaths under investigation” have been listed as “drug-related.”
We expect “Zero EJK” to be picked up by Duterte apologists, propagandists, bloggers, and such camp followers. Malacañang and the Philippine National Police have started using the reformed scoring system, which probably means it is not a joke but one now covered by official policy.
Faced with mounting criticism of the on-site killing of drug suspects, the administration’s bright boys looked for a way out. But instead of stopping or scaling down the gun-slayings, they merely redefined EJKs to nonexistence, to zero.
They dug up Administrative Order No. 35 of 2012 of the Aquino administration creating an Inter-Agency Committee on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons.
The AO defines EJK as one where “the victim was a member of, or affiliated with an organization, to include political, environmental, agrarian, labor, or similar causes; or an advocate of above-named causes; or a media practitioner or person(s) apparently mistaken or identified to be so.” The killer could either be a state agent or not who deliberately targeted a victim due to actual or perceived membership, advocacy or profession.
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.
Secretary General Rose Trajano of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates said, however, that AO 35 must not be applied, because “the general definition of EJK, 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.”
Senate President Koko Pimentel (who has been somewhat distancing himself from sticky Duterte policies) granted that the EJK definition was vague, but voiced concern over the rising incidence of violent crimes, including murders, some of them perpetrated by vigilantes.
The confusion suggests that the Congress may have to enact a universally acceptable definition. But the legislature, controlled by Duterte’s supermajority, may not rush it because Malacañang appears to have found a convenient definition already.
• How to define Extra-judicial Killing?
TO START contributing to the discussion on Extra-judicial Killings, we reprint below portions of our Postscript of Oct. 20, 2016. Full text of that column can be accessed at: tinyurl.com/z6zgykc
“To help explain the phenomenon that has caught the attention of the International Court of Justice, we share excerpts (edited to fit) from an article of Mel Sta. Maria, resident legal analyst of TV5 and dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law:
“In the Philippines, death as punishment cannot be meted out by human beings on human beings. Rep. Act No. 9346 prohibits the death penalty. This is the societal imperative all must observe.
“No one is above the law. Not even the Supreme Court can order death as punishment; neither can the President. For the death penalty to be imposed, the law must be amended to allow it. But even with an amendment, the President still has no power to order the killing of people because only the judiciary can impose punishment.
“Any death sentence ordered by any other entity or person outside of the courts is extra-judicial. And if the order is carried out, it is EJK — the commission of murder no less.
“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.
“Because EJK is a crime, every time President Duterte says ‘I will kill you’ or when he said, referring to 3,000,000 drug addicts, ‘I’d be happy to slaughter them,’ he, the head of state, conveys a deadly message discordant with the rule of law.
“The declarations may be taken as encouragement, especially for people in authority like Philippine National Police officers, to have the same motivation and objective. Put into action and ultimate fruition, it is EJK.”