By Raymund Antonio
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno has brought to the attention of the international community the “war on our legal system” over the government’s anti-drug campaign.
Speaking through video conferencing, Diokno spoke recently at the side event of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, Austria, about the President Duterte’s drug war, primarily its constitutionality and flagrant human rights violations.
“It’s a brazen attempt to supplant justice from our courts with justice from the barrels of guns. And my biggest fear is not just the killings, but the fact that the legal system itself is eroding and that we have no more rule of law to speak of,” he said.
“Human rights have been threatened, and many of us have been killed as well under this administration. By our count, 36 lawyers, some of whom are human rights lawyers, have been killed since 2016,” said Diokno.
Diokno, who is running for senator in the May polls, was invited to speak at the event organized by the DRCNet Foundation, an UN-accredited anti-drug network.
The Otso Diretso candidate said the Philippine National Police (PNP) operationalized the war against drugs through Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016, which is unconstitutional.
“[The circular] expressly authorizes extrajudicial killings by using the terms ‘neutralization’ and ‘negation,’ which have no legal definition in Philippine law,” he said.
“In police parlance, as we understand it, when an instruction is given to neutralize a person, it could very well include killing that person,” Diokno explained.
Diokno emphasized the drug war-related killings that led to the deaths of many innocent people “constitute a crime against humanity.”
“Not just because of the number of killings but because they are a deliberate attack on a very clear segment of the civilian population here in the country,” he said.
In his message, Diokno also called for continuing “international pressure” on Duterte and his administration.
“While the government has claimed that it really doesn’t care about international pressure, we do believe that international pressure has been very helpful in terms of highlighting what’s happening in the country, and, to some extent, influencing the way government is going about its operations,” Diokno said.
He added: “We do hope that the international community will continue to put pressure on the Philippine government to adhere to its commitments under international human rights instruments.”
The longtime human rights lawyer is concerned about the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, which took effect last March 17, because there is no way to prosecute Duterte.
“Under Philippine law, we have what is known as Presidential immunity from suit,” Diokno said. “That is why recourse to the ICC is so important to us in the Philippine human rights community. It’s the only legal remedy available while the President is sitting in the Palace.”