MANILA, Philippines – The Senate may have started its probe into the spate of drug-related killings but the two heads of the committees handling it have expressed opposing views on the need for a congressional inquiry.
Senator Leila De Lima, chairperson of the primary committee – justice and human rights – reiterated the need for the Senate to determine the abuses committed by both law enforcers and vigilante groups.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the secondary committe – public order and dangerous drugs – reiterated his "misgivings" on the Senate inquiry.
In her opening speech, De Lima maintained that the inquiry is in aid of legislation, contrary to accusations.
"I strongly believe: Extrajudicial or extralegal killings, whether perpetrated by the State or by non-state actors, must stop. Blatant disregard for human life has to stop," De Lima said.
"It is for these reasons that we hold this Senate inquiry in aid of legislation to address the rampant summary executions of alleged drug suspects," she added.
More than the growing tally of killings, De Lima, former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said she is more bothered by how law enforcers and vigilante groups use the anti-drug campaign as an "excuse to commit murder with impunity."
Citing different statistics of news agencies, De Lima said the probe also aims to determine the real number of people killed.
"How do we account for these differences? Why are these killings in such magnitude? What provides for the seeming continued impunity of those behind vigilantism and summary executions?" De Lima said.
“Buhay po ng tao ang pinag-uusapan dito, hindi lang basta numero. Sa bawat natagpuang bangkay sa kalsada, may nawalan ng kapatid, magulang, at asawa, may naulilang pamilya, may gumuhong kinabukasan at pag-asa," she said.
(We're talking about lives here, not just statistics. With every body found on the street, someone has lost a sibling, parent, or spouse, a family has been left behind, someone's hopes and dreams came crashing down.)
A former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Lacson said he knows the struggles of policemen in fighting illegal drugs.
"I would like to stress, having come from the ranks of the police, I know and understand their psyche, I know their frustration over a fraud judicial system, unsympathetic and sometimes corrupt prosecutors," Lacson said.
In expressing his reservations, Lacson took the opportunity to cite his reasons in front of De Lima herself.
"I have openly and consistently manifested my misgivings to allow this inquiry to proceeed and for good reasons," he said.
The congressional inquiry, he said, might affect the government's drive against illegal drugs.
He explained the momentum gained by the PNP in such a short period of time must not be "deterred" by the Senate probe.
"Frankly I have never seen anything on a scale of the current anti-illegal drugs campaign under this administration," Lacson said.
"As I have spent half of my life in enforcement, like them, I am not sure how many times I could have been... killed during police operations that I have participated in, number of times I could have landed in jail while performing my duties," he said.
Reliving his experience as former PNP chief, Lacson said congressional inquiries are "anything but pleasant."
"Never ako nakaramdam ng good vibes noon (I never felt good vibes back then). I just hope our resource persons, members of the police force, are not talking to themselves now, cursing us legislators the way I did then," he said.
After Lacson's speech, De Lima was quick to point out that she would respect all resource persons and witnesses.
"I assure everyone this proceeding will be conducted in the most professional manner. We will accord all our resource persons, including witnesses, respect and courtesy. That is what precisely is provided in our rules," De Lima said. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org