Seares: Bato’s liability on illegal killings

Atty. Pachico A. Seares

THE goodbye said by outgoing PNP chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa yesterday (Monday, April 15) at the flag-raising ceremony at Camp Crame didn’t touch at all on his failures and successes. Bato only asked the police personnel to judge whether he had been “a good or bad father” to the organization.

No talk about his responsibility as chief of the armed force that is being blamed for the thousands of deaths in President Duterte’s “war on drugs.” The International Criminal Court (ICC) usually goes after the head of state suspected of mass killings or genocide. During the past months, it’s Duterte who’s being criticized by ICC and the nations supporting it. His chief of police is not being mentioned.

One defense for the president though deflects blame, suggesting that it is the police to prosecute as the “war” was waged by the police. Duterte was not involved in any police operation. The ICC, that argument runs, should hound those who wield the gun and caused the violence. And Bato was their chief.

With Bato leaving PNP, would his accountability also go? That wasn’t raised in his farewell or in the news stories about his exit.

Why the tears

But Bato cried, in some nostalgia over the one year and nine months that he spent with PNP, when he was idolized by some, criticized by others, but became so widely known that he began to think he could win as senator.

Prone to easy tears, Bato also cried last Nov. 22, 2016, before the Senate committee that looked into the drug campaign, saying then “Ako’y hirap na hirap na.”

“Ginagawa ko ang lahat,” he told PNP officers and employees in Monday’s farewell. Did he try at all to limit the casualties to those who actually assaulted the police, which under the law would be self-defense? Or did he go along with the prodding to kill, kill, kill.

No written order

But then what else could Bato have said at the flag rites? He couldn’t say he was just following orders as every obedient PNP chief might plead. Even if he wanted to use that defense, he couldn’t show any order in writing from his commander: no executive order, issuance, letter, guidelines, nothing. A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) report in September 2017 said it hadn’t found any written order.

Orders from above or none, in PNP office, elsewhere in government, or out of it, de la Rosa might still be held accountable for illegal killings committed during his term as PNP chief.

Documented killings

A Human Rights Watch study of 24 incidents involving police operations between October 2016 and January 2017, in which 32 people died, said police “routinely planted evidence, spent ammunition and packets of drugs next to the bodies of the victims.” In HRW’s 80-page special report of March 3, 2017, titled “License to Kill: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’,” the police are the faces of the perpetrators. And their chief was de la Rosa.

A Reuters special report in April 2017 was fleshed out mainly by the information of two whistleblowers: a former PNP intelligence officer and a commander still in active duty. The data and details were so extensive that it couldn’t be dismissed as sensational fake news.

‘Superior’

Could the ICC go after Duterte alone when it was Bato who led the police that is blamed for the killings?

Even under Philippine law, Republic Act 9851 of 2008, “An Act Defining and Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity,” the “superior” may be held liable under the theory of “command responsibility.” Who are the superiors of the police? The commander-in-chief who’s also the head of state. And the chief of police, namely Bato whose watch it was when the crimes were allegedly committed. To ICC and under R.A. #9851, the operative phrase is “command responsibility.”

The ICC may use the Rome Statute and the country’s own law, R.A. #9851 to go after the superiors of the police. That is, if it could enter the country and take them to court at the Hague. The ICC deputies might be the ones whod land in jail.