Monday, June 22, 2009

How Many Extrajudicial Killings Have There Been So Far This Year?

MANILA, Philippines (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / June 22, 2009) - In Geneva recently speaking in front of the Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Summary, Extrajudicial or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston reported a 70 per cent decrease in the number of unexplained killings since his February 2007 visit here and in his subsequent report.

The highest number of previously reported killings reached 94 in 2007 and 64 in 2008, compared with 220 in 2006, Alston said in his April 2009 report.

In an effort to see if that reported decline is continuing, leveling off, or perhaps even increasing, the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project briefly and very unscientifically scanned through national media reports on extrajudicial killings (EJKs) since January 1, 2009 through until a few days ago. We are of course just two weeks short of a full half year.

It is important to stress that just as our review is by no means a scientific or methodical one, neither did we seek to measure ‘like with like’.

In trying to work out an indicative figure from January to early June on reported suspected EJKs – unexplained killings in Professor Alston’s term- we deliberately sought to include members of the military, the police and the administration who were targeted and killed –some very possibly by armed insurgents.

Developing a list comprised only of activists and so-called “Leftists” we believe will only help ensure the issue remains a very political bone of contention and dispute.

And so we have included agents of the state and also those “accused” of being informers. We have included politicians –but we have specifically not included victims of probable death squads. The number of people who may have been victims of vigilante-style summary justice in and around Southern Mindanao, the Visayas, Manila and elsewhere in the first six months of the year, does though seem very alarmingly high.

Our quick count suggests the Philippines has already suffered around 36 cases of alleged EJKs or summary killings this year. Again, to clarify that at first glance this seems higher than the same period last year – but then last year’s figures counted only activists, journalists and so-called ‘Leftists.’

We should also clarify again that this review is simply based upon what the national media are reporting – yet the national media did not immediately pick up on the shooting on March 31 in Sorsogon of a young widow, Eden Jolloso-Jerus who turned campaigner in the wake of her activist husband being killed two years earlier. Her murder was first reported by and then followed up by the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project which published a story that was then widely disseminated in the mainstream media.

There will of course never be an exact figure of how many summary killings happen every year until agreement between competing groups and interests is reached over what exact methodology and criteria should be used.

A proper database and monitoring system is also needed. Even so, the figures each year would remain an approximation –but they would be commonly agreed upon and accepted as the most reliable count available. We ourselves and we suspect many others would very much like to see this happen so as to put the issue and question beyond political debate once and for all.

We hope this may happen in the near future. Such a intervention is sorely needed.

Our tally does though clearly show that there remains a very serious ongoing problem – and a problem that cannot wholly be blamed upon the state. It also reveals clear “hot spots” of alleged EJKs -- in Negros Oriental in central Philippines; the Davao region in the south; and Batangas and Sorsogon in Luzon. (Analysis by Rorie Fajardo in Manila and Alan Davis in London / Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project)

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