The recent spate of assassinations of local government officials brings to mind a history of political violence that has marred Philippine politics since the last century.
Before Martial Law was declared in 1972, political kingpins ran the areas they represented like fiefdoms. Many employed private armies to assert their power and authority.
During martial rule, enforced disappearances and summary executions threatened activists and other so-called enemies of the state.
In a more recent example, the administration’s two-year War on Drugs has claimed more than 10,000 lives. In other areas, victims of political killings have included left-wing advocates, anti-mining activists, agricultural reform activists, journalists, the political opposition, and outspoken members of the clergy.
According to the human rights organization, Karapatan, there is a pattern to political killings in the Philippines – state security forces (i.e. the military and the police) use forced disappearances or summary executions during “legitimate” operations.
When it comes to political killings, there is no presumption of innocence, a right guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution. In fact, political killings upend the very idea of due process.
What is due process of law?
As outlined in Sec. 1, Art. III and Sec. 14(1), Art. III of the Constitution, due process protects citizens from the abuse of government action coming from any of the three branches of government: executive, legislative, or judicial.
There are two kinds of due process:
- Procedural due process
US Senator Daniel Webster described procedural due process as “law which hears before it condemns.” The landmark case, “Banco Espanol vs. Palanca (37 Phil. 921),” said that for due process to take place, the following must be present:
- An impartial court or tribunal with the power to hear and decide the matter before it
- An opportunity for the accused to be heard
- Judgment that is passed only after a lawful hearing
- Substantive due process
This principle allows the court to protect constitutional rights from government interference. It states that the government needs sufficient justification to deprive a person of life, liberty, or property.
Thus, political killings contravene basic constitutional law as the State or its agents (military and police) have bypassed due process.
Legal basis against political killings
Thus, all political killings are extrajudicial killings (EJKs). In “Secretary of National Defense v Manalo (GR No. 180906),” the Supreme Court defined political killings as violating procedural due process as they are committed without legal safeguards or judicial proceedings.
Furthermore, in the case, “Gen. Avelino I. Razon, Jr. Et Al. v Mary Jean Tagitis (GR No. 182498),” the Supreme Court said that political killings and enforced disappearances violate substantive due process as these crimes mean that State, its agents, and private parties violate constitutional rights of individuals to life, liberty, and security.
Republic .Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 also defines enforced disappearances as a separate crime from kidnapping, torture or murder.
The law defines an enforced disappearance as:
- The victim is deprived of liberty
- The perpetrator is the State or agents of the State
- Information on the whereabouts of the victim is concealed or denied
Those who violate this law can be further prosecuted if they refuse to disclose the whereabouts of the victim. This is the first law of its kind in Asia.
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