Great and noble principles
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - June 14, 2019 - 12:00am

One of the purposes of our Constitution found in its Preamble is “to secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law.” “Rule of law” means that “government officials have only the authority defined and given them by law, and that such authority continues only with the consent of the people” (Bernas, The 1987 Philippine Constitution, A Reviewer-Primer).

The most basic and fundamental law of the land is of course our Constitution. And as provided in Article II, Section 11, “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” One of the basic rights of a human person is contained in Section 14, Article III or the Bill of Rights which declares that: (1) ”No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.” In the same Section (Paragraph 2,) “due process” means that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf. However, after arraignment, trial may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused provided that he has been duly notified and his failure to appear is unjustifiable.” In the case of Nunez vs. Sandiganbayan, 11 SCRA 433, the Supreme Court ruled that “Due process is satisfied if the accused is informed as to why he is proceeded against and what charge he has to meet, with his conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction being made to rest on evidence that is not tainted with falsity after full opportunity for him to rebut it, and the sentence being imposed is in accordance with law.”

These provisions of our Constitution are cited here in view of the unprecedented number of “extrajudicial killings” perpetrated and committed under the present administration headed by President and Chief Executive Rodrigo Duterte. These killings are purportedly in pursuance of his much vaunted and highly touted “war” on dangerous drugs. But they have apparently raised so much concerns and worry on the part of so many people not only in our country but all over the world precisely because of the apparent disregard of the “rule of law” and violation of human rights. Very noticeable in these killings are the victims who are mostly poor. They are merely suspected of violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Law allegedly because they are addicted to drugs due to poverty and difficulties in life. And moneyed drug dealers and drug lords who are the primary violators or the main cause of spreading this menace in our society are taking advantage of their weaknesses. But even worst here is that those killed have not yet been charged, arrested, tried in court and convicted.

And as usual, the apparent and open violators of the “Rule of Law” in this raging “war” are the law enforcers taking orders from their Commander-in-Chief. These extra-judicial killings are being justified as acts to defend their own lives because of the unlawful aggression of the suspected drug addicts. This justification is more popularly described in Filipino as “nanlaban.” To be sure, this is really found in the Revised Penal Code, Article 11. But it can be validly and effectively invoked only if there was a previous unlawful attack on the law enforcers that placed their life in danger and forced them to inflict more or less severe wounds upon their assailants, employing reasonable means to prevent or repel the attack. It must likewise be shown that they did not sufficiently provoke the assailant to attack them (Pp vs del Castillo 40 Philippines 665). Even if the assailant is of suspicious character or had very shady backgrounds, still these facts would not justify taking his life, for nobody is authorized to violate the law that protects a person in his life, rights and property in the community (Pp vs. Coronel, 30 Phil. 112).

If this government really adheres to the “Rule of Law” and in the interest of truth and justice, it should not reject the call of United Nations experts for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. Even if the call is made in “bad faith by parties who want to undermine democratic processes and spread disinformation based on one sided reports from questionable sources”; or even if it “smacks of unpardonable intrusions on our sovereignty” rejecting it would not clear all doubts about these human rights violations. On the contrary it may even bolster the current belief both here and abroad, that we are really hiding something regarding these human rights violations. Allowing this independent investigation on the other hand will even substantiate the truth of the government’s allegations that it is made in bad faith to undermine democratic processes, and spread disinformation, and that it is an unpardonable intrusion into our sovereignty.

And most important of all, our country is one of the original members of the UN. And being a long standing member, one of the “principles” we have adopted as embodied in our Constitution (Section 2 Article II)  is that “the Philippines x x x adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations.” By allowing the UN call for independent investigation on the human rights violation, we are just adhering to this principle in our Charter.

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