“The protection of fundamental liberties is the essence of constitutional democracy. Protection against whom? Protection against the state” – the words, 30 years ago, of Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., one of our greatest constitutionalists, in his sponsorship speech of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Freedom Constitution. (See Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. 1, p. 674; July 17, 1986).
The Bill of Rights is that part of the Constitution which guarantees, among others, that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law.” It further provides that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable”.
The news the past week has been dominated by the story of how state agents, particularly members of the Caloocan Police, on the frayed, worn excuse of “nanlaban” [the suspect fought back], shot dead an 11th grade-minor, Kian “Ian” Loyd Delos Santos. However, InterAksyon reported that
Close circuit television footage from the crime scene tends to cast the police’s account in doubt. The video shows a figure, believed to be Kian, being dragged away by two men in civilian attire to the area where he was shot dead.
Also, witnesses said the boy was frisked but police found nothing. And before his death, the boy was seen beaten up.
Kian’s death is just the latest in what appears to be a “programmed” killing of those implicated in drugs, regardless of degree of proof and however they have been labeled: users, pushers or suppliers.
On August 18, 2017, the Inquirer reported that
“The Philippine National Police (PNP) has said that 32 people were killed while 109 drug suspects were arrested in the simultaneous “One Time Big Time Operation” by the Bulacan police on August 15. Aside from those in Bulacan, suspected drug personalities who were killed in Manila have reached 26 after the Manila Police District’s (MPD) “one-time, big-time” anti-drug operations on Wednesday.”
The death toll is at a condemnable point where no right-minded citizen can justify the way this government has implemented its war-on-drugs-policy. In fact, that phase of giving this administration the “benefit of the doubt” has long passed. The stench of summary executions based on suspicion has reached a nauseating dimension. Mostly, it is the poor people who are killed. And there seems to be no end in sight. Worse, the rhetorics accusing human rights advocates as “obstructionists” and threatening to include them in the death-list suggest that the killings will even escalate.
When government agents admit that they are the killers, the presumption of innocence is gone. The burden of evidence completely shifts to them to prove self-defense. The killers must now rely on the strength of their own proofs in view of their own incriminating admission. Like any other confessed killers, their excuse of “nanlaban” will not and should not be readily accepted.
And even if there is “nanlaban”, its invocation alone cannot free them from criminal liability for murder. These state agents must additionally prove that the means employed to repel the unlawful aggression (“nanlaban”) must have been reasonably necessary. Not surprisingly, in this aspect, the authorities are deafeningly silent, especially in the case of 17-year-old Kian “Ian” Loyd Delos Santos.
What is telling is that this “One time Big Time Operation” is a government “operation” – a state-sponsored project. Whether or not it actually involves an “EJK” [extra-judicial-killing] component when it was conceptualized, those who operationalized it with EJK are all criminal conspirators. And in conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all, despite their absence from the scene of the crime.
Alarmingly, the perception of impunity also rules the day – emboldening the executioners. Human lives are no longer valued. They are snuffed out as if some quota had to be attained, then maintained and gruesomely increased. Consequently, the environment does not feel any safer. Terror is engendered, not by common criminals, but by the government or a number of its agents. For them, the constitutional mandate for the State to value the dignity of people and guarantee full respect for human rights is a meaningless platitude – exhibited in their uninhibited scorn and mockery of such fundamental policy at every opportunity.
And so Fr. Joaquin Bernas SJ’s warning comes to mind – made 30 years ago – that the State, more particularly its agents from the lowest to the highest ranking officials, may be the greatest aggressors imperiling the people’s lives and liberties. We can only hope that we are not witnessing a prophecy unfolding before our eyes. But as the number of killings escalates, that hope is fast diminishing.
It is time to be more active in shouting out our disgust to stop the bleeding and the killing. As I have always said, in being indifferent to the human rights of others, we are also endangering our own.