A legacy of impunity  

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Forty days from today at noon of June 30, President Rodrigo Duterte’s term will end as ordained by the 1987 Philippine Constitution. What legacy will the outgoing president leave behind?

If you ask administration allies and supporters, Duterte leaves a legacy of “Build build build” and security and order. I have reservations on both claims for two separate reasons. On the claim of a “golden age of infrastructure,” presidential contender Senator Panfilo Lacson’s take on the issue last March portends a bad prognosis.

Lacson said that of 118 projects under “Build build build”, only 12 projects were fully accomplished. Over a trillion pesos have been poured into the program, so the next administration will have to continue the numerous other projects that have been started but not yet completed.

Yet enormous debts were incurred for those projects, an unimaginative way to fund infrastructure projects. We expect these projects to be continued in order for the country to get value for its increasing debt burden. But if these projects fail to increase production and efficiency, as well as create more jobs in the economy, the people will pay the ultimate price of this debt-driven legacy.

As regards peace and order, my reservations focus on one question: At what price? And this was answered by the latest report from the Commission on Human Rights.

The 48-page April 2022 report which was released this week, made the following summing up: “Overall, the Commission finds that the government has failed in its obligation to respect and protect the human rights of every citizen, in particular, victims of drug-related killings. It has encouraged a culture of impunity that shields perpetrators from being held to account.”

The CHR said that while it supports campaigns to combat the effects and proliferation of dangerous drugs, such measures “must be coupled with a strong drive to promote due process, equal protection, full accountability, and the rule of law, thus, fulfilling its fundamental duty to uphold the rights and dignity of all.”

Malacañang described the CHR’s report as a “rehash of old issues,” claiming that the Duterte administration will be leaving behind “a legacy of a safe and secure Philippines.”

The impunity lies in what the CHR said is the “lack of effective, prompt, and transparent accountability mechanisms to address the drug-related killings.” Authorities failed to give CHR investigators access to police documents in 295 out of 793 drug-related killings.

“(This) has contributed to the dearth of information vital in identifying patterns in these incidents,” said the CHR. Either the agency’s requests for information were ignored, or it was given the usual bureaucratic runaround if not outright denial.

“Such actions and inactions manifest indifference to the constitutionally vested powers of the Commission,” the CHR said. In fact, the lack of data from authorities compelled the CHR to come up with the analytical report through a sampling methodology based on only a number of cases investigated with adequate records available to the commission.

“Internal investigations on law enforcement operations that resulted in death have been inaccessible and nontransparent. Precinct-level investigations were conducted by members of the same station or unit. Seldom did the available investigation reports from the station question the legitimacy of the operations, the use of force and firearms, and the self-defense narrative. Police reports in only 264 out of the 478 law enforcement operations were made available to the Commission,” the CHR stated in its report.

Of those 246 incidents of killings, the police failed to identify the suspects and file appropriate charges in all but 22 incidents. The oft-cited reason is lack of witnesses that can positively identify the perpetrators, despite what the CHR correctly observed as the “PNP’s vast network of assets and intelligence”.

In 2016, I almost voted for Duterte, but then I thought about the murders and the impunity in Davao City during his reign as the city’s chief executive. Impunity, even if prompted by a desire for retributive justice, eats into the moral fabric of society. It weakens social institutions and puts into question the rule of law.

Impunity likewise worsens the culture of patronage where law and justice matter less than the decision of an authority that has its own brand of justice and that feels no obligation to proceed in accordance with law. This lack of accountability has spread to other aspects of our governance as well as community life.

Duterte, for all his strongman posturing, leaves behind a weaker country at the mercy of geopolitical currents.


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