DOJ, DILG sign rules to probe, prosecute slaying of political activists, journalists

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MANILA, Philippines — The Aquino administration has come up with a plan to prioritize the investigation of the murders of political activists and journalists, and to more effectively prosecute these cases.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Sunday it has signed with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) joint operational guidelines on how to go about the speedy investigation and prosecution of these cases.

The high incidence of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has become an international issue. Human rights organizations have documented hundreds of killings of political activists, human rights campaigners, lawyers and journalists in the past decade.

In the past two years of the Aquino administration, the human rights group Karapatan documented 129 victims of possible extrajudicial killings, 14 of them media representatives.

The new DOJ-DILG regulations call on law enforcers and prosecutors to team up during “all phases of the criminal proceedings” to ensure that the killings “are effectively investigated and successfully prosecuted.”

The new regulations are in line with an administrative order in 2007 that ordered the two departments to come up with implementing rules and regulations for the successful investigation and prosecution of these killings.

The guidelines provide that within 48 hours, law enforcement agencies will assess “whether or not the incident may be treated as a possible political activist or media killing.”

If a law enforcement agency deems the killing as probably related to the work of the political activist or journalist, the law enforcement unit will alert the Chief of Police or provincial director, who will then ask the appropriate prosecutor’s office to prioritize the preliminary investigation of the case.

Prosecutors and law enforcers are then required to file a final investigation report and file the proper complaint before the city or provincial prosecutor office. The prosecutor general has two days from receiving the investigation report to inform Task Force 211, a body that has been formed in the past administration to conduct investigations of these types of killings.

Under the guidelines as well, the preliminary investigation of the case should be completed within 30 days from the receipt of the complaint.

“No reply/rejoinder shall be entertained and no motions for extension of time shall be allowed,” the guidelines said.

In the event probable cause is determined after a preliminary investigation, the prosecutor general has two days upon receipt of the resolution to act on the recommendation and order the filing of the case in court.

The guidelines require the trial prosecutor, assisting prosecutor and law enforcement investigators to continue coordinating during the trial of the case.

In a report to the United Nations in 2008, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that the many extrajudicial executions in the Philippines of “civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and land reform advocates, intimidated a vast number of civil society actors, and narrowed the country’s political discourse.”

“Depending on who is counting and how, the total number of such executions ranged from 100 to over 800,” Alston’s report said.

He said the Philippine military’s counter-insurgency strategy, which has tagged numerous civil society organizations as “fronts” of communist insurgents, might have encouraged the extrajudicial execution of leftist activists.  He also said “the priorities of the criminal justice system have also been distorted, and it has increasingly focused on prosecuting civil society leaders rather than their killers.”

The military has denied any official involvement in extrajudicial killings.

At that time, Alston noted various measures promulgated by the government to respond to the problem of extrajudicial executions.  “However, they have yet to succeed, and the extrajudicial executions continue.”