Monday, August 22, 2016

Uphold due process, defend the Constitution | Inquirer Opinion

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ALL FILIPINOS, whether public officials or ordinary citizens, have the right to due process. It is a human right guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution that President Duterte swore to uphold and defend.

It is sorely disappointing to see the President disregard this constitutional right as he voices no objection to the killing of suspected drug pushers by the police or by vigilantes, and accuses police officers, local executives, judges and other officials of being drug lords or their protectors without the benefit of a thorough, completed criminal investigation. Without presenting solid evidence to back up his public allegations, President Duterte, the most powerful public official of our land, has embarked on a chilling, sickening name-and-shame campaign that is in effect an unjust, unlawful and unconstitutional trial by publicity.

The most recent target of this campaign of the President is newly-elected and installed Sen. Leila de Lima. He has publicly accused her of having links to the illegal drugs trade and he has insinuated that her election campaign was funded with drug money.

This public shaming came on the eve of a Senate investigation that Senator De Lima had called to look into the spate of extrajudicial killings that have been spurred by the President’s declaration of war on drugs. The figures are simply too disturbing: 665 killings by the police, 889 by unknown assailants in a span of six weeks, per the Inquirer’s report (“UN exec accepts Palace challenge to visit PH,” Front Page, 8/20/16), and counting.

The accusation smacks of vindictiveness. It may be recalled that when she was still justice secretary and, before that, head of the Commission on Human Rights, Senator De Lima called for a probe on the vigilante killings by a group called the Davao Death Squad which was linked to President Duterte who was then mayor of Davao City. Of course, she was just doing her job as mandated by law. We thus find it alarming that she is now being publicly humiliated and pilloried precisely for doing her job.

The public shaming which, to repeat, is trial by publicity, does have a chilling effect on free and intelligent discourse which is essential to democracy.

President Duterte himself recently upped the stake in favor of freedom of information by signing an executive order binding on all officials and employees in the executive branch of the Philippine government, for them to make accessible public documents to the people. We thus expect him to be the first to uphold the law and allow the free market of ideas to flourish to better build an informed citizenry. Muzzling contrary opinions has no place in a democratic and civilized society such as ours.

We stand by the Senate of the Philippines as it pursues its mandate and duty to “check and balance” the executive branch, and to conduct, as part of its oversight function, investigations in aid of legislation on matters of public interest.

We stand by Sen. Leila de Lima in her decision to proceed with the Senate inquiry into the extrajudicial killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs, and in her advocacy to protect human rights, including the right to due process.

We support our law enforcers who risk their lives to maintain law and order and protect our lives and property and human rights.

But we urge President Duterte to refrain from using his office to intimidate those who dare disagree with him; to conduct himself like a true statesman; to respect the privacy of individuals, including public officials; and to elevate the quality of public discourse. The presidency should never be used as a platform for revenge; it demeans the highest office of the land, and diminishes its dignity and credibility.

As well, to impugn a woman’s character by the same actions that would otherwise elevate a man’s status in society, and to apply a different standard of morality on a lady senator’s alleged extramarital relations from that of a President’s own well-known dalliances, is to box one’s self in stereotypes and sexist attitudes. Surely, with a daughter in public office, President Duterte knows better than to confine women in his box of antiquated roles and expectations.

We call on all Filipino men and women of good will to be discerning in responding to intemperate reports and issues raised, especially in social media. Let not these reports and issues bring out the worst in us. Let us pursue our discourse in a manner worthy of emulation by our youth and children.

Despite severe pressure from several quarters, let us be steadfast in respecting the rule of law; let us uphold due process and defend our Constitution, in words and in deeds.

This piece was signed by Rosanita Serrano, Narzalina “Narz” Lim, and 15 other women.

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