On 30 January 2009, news outlets had reported several incidents of vigilante-style killings in various parts of Metro Manila. These include an incident in Quiapo, Manila, where a man identified as Darwin Pajarillo, 29, a fruit vendor, of 922 R. Papa Street, from Sampaloc, Manila, was found inside a wooden crate left at Quezon Bridge. On the lid of the box, the perpetrators left a foreboding message: “Holdaper ako, hwag nyo ako tularan [I am a hold-up man, do not be like me]”. In another incident, two (2) male corpses were found hogtied along a sidewalk in Mindanao Avenue, Quezon City. The two males bore multiple puncture wounds from what appeared to be inflicted using an ice pick. They also bore gashes around their necks, indicating that they may have been tortured and strangled as well.
This comes at the time when elsewhere in the country, particularly in Davao City, another sprawling metropolitan area, vigilante killings are again on the rise. The esoteric Davao Death Squad remains beyond the ambit of local law enforcement. Many suspected criminals, including drug-pushers, thieves and robbers have been the target of these vigilante killings.
Also last week, it had been reported that a handful of individuals had robbed passengers of a bus. Before the last of the alleged perpetrators had alighted from the bus, a passenger shot and killed one of the alleged robbers. While this incident appears as an act of heroism, it should be underscored that the person killed was not in the act of threatening the passengers, but attempting to escape from the scene of the crime. His death is an illustration of the murderous nature of street-justice, wherein a person though had clearly committed a crime, he had not only been robbed of his life, but his right to due process under the law as well.
The Commission on Human Rights strongly condemns these acts of vigilante killings and street-justice. We maintain that there can be no validation of the taking of life except where the law provides justification, such as in circumstances of self-defense or armed conflict. The taking of life is no longer a penalty sanctioned by law, in compliance with our obligations under the 2nd Optional Protocol on the ICCPR. Since the State itself is prohibited from taking life, more so are private citizens from carrying out the same.
There can be no resort to any means of attaining justice beyond those outlined in our penal and correctional law. The importance of abiding by the rule of law is found precisely in the protections that the law provides to all persons, whether law-abiding or criminal. The right to life and due process are firmly enshrined in law, and the law is applicable to everyone. Where there is widespread resort or consent to the use of extralegal means for retribution, we place all citizens in grave danger of being denied their own rights to life and due process. Without our clamor against vigilante killings and street-justice, we bring society as a whole down through a spiral of injustice not only to those who disobey the law, but to the great many who do obey.
The preservation of the right to life and the right to due process, thus, must be equally applicable to all persons, in order that we may protect the integrity of the rule of law. We cannot hope to provide the innocent and the upstanding with the protections of the law if we do not provide the same protections to miscreants and criminals.
For this reason, we call on all concerned government agencies, particularly the Philippine National Police, Department of Justice and all local governments units to take measures first to solve pending, unsolved cases of vigilantism, and second, to take preventive measures against these forms of crimes. In order to prevent further occurrence of vigilante-style killings, these cases must be successfully investigated and prosecuted, leading to convictions meted out against perpetrators. It is gravely important that these cases be solved, not merely to attain justice for those killed, but to preserve the rule of law and the protection that every person derives from the law.
Issued this 2nd day of February 2009, at Quezon City, Philippines.
For the Commission:
LEILA M. DE LIMA