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Roque: Police cannot have own definition of extrajudicial killings

Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer by profession, has been appointed as spokesperson to President Rodrigo Duterte, accused by international groups of human rights violations. ICC Coalition photo, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Rep. Harry Roque (Kabayan party-list), incoming presidential spokesperson, on Monday said that there are extrajudicial killings in the country, contrary to earlier claims by the Philippine National Police that there are none.

Speaking on CNN Philippines' "The Source", Roque said that he believes that the "persistence" of extrajudicial killings, which happened even while Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (Pampanga) was president from 2001 to 2010, has given rise to a culture of impunity in the country.

"There is an accepted definition by the international community and the Supreme Court," the lawyer said. He stressed that "the police will have to accept the fact that they don't make the definitions of extrajudicial killings."

On October 7, the PNP said that the case of Catanduanes-based journalist Larry Que was recognized as an extrajudicial killing under the Duterte administration. That afternoon, the police issued a "corrected" statement that denied the existence of extrajudicial killings in the 6,225 drug-related deaths since the administration started in June 2016.

Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos, PNP spokesperson, said that he had been corrected by Task Force Usig, the unit that investigates the killings of journalists, activists and foreign nationals. "We don't have cases considered as EJK as of now, so I stand corrected."

The Palace stood by the police statement.

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“We do not have judicial killing, we do not have capital punishment. It is prohibited to kill in our country. So why is there extrajudicial killing when there is no judicial killing? Why put ‘extra?’ So there is no extrajudicial killings in our country. There is no judicial killing, it is not state sponsored, it is not legal, it is not in our Constitution,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a radio interview.

Supreme Court rulings

In a 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court defined EJKs as “killings committed without due process of law, i.e., without legal safeguards or judicial proceedings.” A 2009 ruling also recognized that “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, by their nature and purpose, constitute State or private party violation of the constitutional rights of individuals to life, liberty and security.”

READ: Cayetano uses restrictive definition of EJK, experts say

Roque, who first gained prominence as a human rights lawyer, also cited the report of United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston that hit the Arroyo administration for the rise of extrajudicial executions of leftist activists in the country.

UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard has been on the receiving end of President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades since last year, due to opposing views on drug war.

The incoming spokesperson is among the founders of the Center for International Law Manila (CenterLaw) that has, to date, filed two petitions challenging the government's bloody drug war before the Supreme Court. He has also represented the the family of Jennifer Laude and of the victims of the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.

Drug war

Roque's appointment to the Malacañang was met with skepticism by some of his colleagues, who noted that his vision runs contrary to this administration's stance on the ongoing bloody drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.

READ: Tough-talking Harry Roque now Duterte's spokesperson

But Roque said that he will approach the issue of the government's bloody drug war in the "legal context."

He said: "It is the obligation of the sovereignty to go after drug traders. It's an exercise of police power."

He added that it may have been his legal background that President Rodrigo Duterte, also a lawyer and prosecutor, in deciding to appoint him.

Roque will hold his first briefing as the de facto presidential spokesperson at the Malacañang on Thursday.

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