The bullet that almost pierced through the chest of Francis “Jay R” Santiago Jr. during an alleged buy bust operation last September 13 at Aldecoa St. in Malate, Manila could have easily added him to the long list of drug suspects slain in the name of Duterte’s relentless war on drugs.
Jay R, however, managed to survive.“Nagpatay-patayan ako hanggang sa dumating ang media,” the kuliglig driver, who was confined in a room he shares with three other patients at Ospital ng Maynila, told The LaSallian. Jay R narrates he could feel the officers putting a gun next to him while he played dead. “Habang nakadapa ako, nilalapagan ako ng baril.”
He recounts a seemingly different story, disproving the initial reports of the Malate Police Station 9 that claim he and the other suspect alias “Greggy” were shot dead in an armed encounter after a buy bust operation.
A frame up
Prior to the shooting, Jay R was arrested around noontime of September 12, and was brought to the police station where he and Greggy got mugged by the officers.
“Walang buy bust operation. Pinilit nila kaming ipasok doon sa bihisan nila. Doon nila kami binugbog. Pilit kaming pinapa-amin nung colonel nila,” Jay R narrates, as he lies on the hospital bed surrounded by his relatives.
He says he needed to give in so the cops would stop hitting him. “Umamin na lang ako kunwari para hindi na nila ako bugbugin.” They were then detained by the policemen until midnight. Jay R narrates that the police made him and Greggy go inside the kuliglig and told them to cover their faces with a black jacket.
“Pagbaba na pag-baba namin pagkatapos kaming umikot-ikot sa Aloha [Hotel], pina-putukan na kami,” he continues. The shootout happened at 1 am of September 13.
Police reports claim that the incident is a legitimate operation, in line with the current administration’s vow of carrying out an uncompromising crackdown on the drug scourge in the country.
But while many are impressed by the political will of the President in carrying out concrete solutions to the country’s deeply rooted problems, Jay R’s case echoes a clamor from some members of the public to end the spiraling culture of violence.
Demystifying buy bust operations
The war waged against criminals complicit in any illegal drug related acts, some without undergoing due process, is accused of inspiring the wave of onslaught by policemen and unidentified vigilante groups, resulting to at least 3,000 dead as of press time.
“Pro-life kami dito. Hindi kami pumapatay,” PO2 Alvin Elma, Station of Anti-illegal Drugs (SAID) Investigator of Malate Police Station 9, explains when asked about the issue of the questionable number of suspects killed in armed encounters and operations.
When shootouts ensue, drug suspects are killed out of self-defense, in line with their standard operating procedures (SOP) Elma maintains.
“Iyang mga nakatake ng drugs, iba na ang mentalidad,” he explains. Elma states that due to the nation-wide campaign, drug criminals are taking double measures to avoid getting arrested. “Yung iba, nag-iimbak ng baril at lumalaban talaga sa pulis.” As of press time, 8 people have been killed during their operations, while 100 drug users and pushers have surrendered to them.
When asked about the alleged ‘justice quota’ required for every police station nationwide, Elma says the only order they have received is to conduct continuous buy bust operations and coordinate with Barangay offices. Their intelligence team and confidential informants go through a series of surveillance and verification procedures before conducting operations.
Elma observes that cases of petty crimes in the area have decreased since the nationwide campaign against drugs.
For Attorney Andre De Jesus, a criminal legislator from the Commercial Law department, it seems that the efforts are concentrated exclusively, if not mainly, on drug related crimes. He explains that “there seems to be a purposely lopsided conception of criminality.”
“If you’re going to say that you’re out to crack down on criminality, it must be indiscriminate,” he explains.
‘Extrajudicial killings’ clarified
Even before he took over the national post, President Duterte has long been criticized for being linked to the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS)–a militia group tasked to rid the metropolis of petty and notorious criminals through extralegal tactics.
You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao, a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2009, calls for an investigation of the complicity and the passive role of police officers and local government officials, including President Duterte, in the alarming spate of carnage of alleged drug lords and petty criminals in Davao and Southern part of Mindanao during that period.
The same pattern of vigilante style killings observed by HRW, critics argue, seems to be implemented on a national scale. Yet, in the absence of death penalty in the current legal system, all killings are considered extrajudicial.
The prevailing definition used by the Philippine government, as defined in Article 1 of Administrative Order No. 35, refers to extrajudicial killings as killings of people involved in an organization of political, agrarian, labor and of similar causes, perpetrated by state actors at all times
To effectively characterize the issue of rising number of suspects killed, the House of Representatives dropped the use of the term ‘extrajudicial killing’ and instead, replaced it with ‘death under investigation’ to be used by the Philippine National Police.
Failure of the criminal justice system
Popular support for President Duterte remains firm, despite the global tirades and condemnation the administration’s war on drugs policy has received.
The unwavering support, pundits argue, is borne out of the public’s heightened discontent over the failure of existing systems and institutions in implementing the rule of law with impartiality and efficiency.
Attorney Andre De Jesus explains, “Perhaps support for extrajudicial killings is spawned by another evil–the failure of the system to dispense swift justice.”
Despite efforts to reform the legal system, judicial courts in the country are still plagued by longstanding problems of clogged court dockets caused by indiscriminate filing of cases and insufficient courts and judges.
Drug cases, in particular, take a long time to resolve partly due to the lack of sufficient evidence and poor participation of actors involved.
In one of his speeches, President Duterte has expressed his dissatisfaction over tedious judicial processes and delays in resolving criminal cases, saying that these could undermine the implementation of his policy to eradicate drug related crimes.
While an additional 240 trial courts have been recently designated by the Supreme Court last July 19 to handle the growing number of cases involving the violation of Dangerous Drug Act, De Jesus suggests the creation of courts specifically for the trial of drug related cases.
“There are courts designated as family courts, as agrarian courts. Why not amend the Judiciary Reorganization Act to include drug courts? Include specific courts that are supposed to try only drug related activities. Come up with continuous hearings and require courts to come up with rulings within six months tops,” says De Jesus.
How universal are human rights?
For both local and international groups overseeing the commitment of nation states with their human rights obligations, President Duterte’s rhetoric hinting to cut corners on due process may be problematic.
Some members of the academe, however, point out that human rights and its accompanying issues of universality, cultural relativism, self-serving interests, and Western imperialism need to be reviewed.
In colonial discourse, the view that human rights is a tool disguised as a universalizing mission to advance imperialistic interests over other nation states remains to be a widely contested issue.
Under the current balance of power in the international system, United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, critics claim, heavily rests on a Western paradigm. Employing it as a standard meter for non-western countries such as the Philippines, whose ideas of human rights gear towards communitarian values, not only promotes cultural imperialism, but also interventionism by more powerful global actors, challenging the nation’s sovereignty.
But Professor Louie Montemar, National Lead Coordinator of Lasallian Educational Commission, contests that human rights, as a tool in itself, is not wrong in the absolute sense.
“Human Rights is a collective product of humanity. It must be understood in the context of world history. And this history shows that human rights, as a tool in protecting the rights of individuals, is a product of conflict and oppression,” he elucidates.
While human rights can be used in pursuit of advancing self-serving political agendas, Montemar explains this doesn’t reject what human rights stand for. “We see that the way these rights are worded truly considers the way the individuals can be abused by collective interests, can be taken advantage of by bigger collectives. And that’s precisely how human rights go against the grain of imperialistic structures.”