Davao is not the only city in southern Philippines that has earned notoriety for the summary execution of suspected criminals many of them minors. Fast catching up is Cagayan de Oro City which recently paraded for public view a group of crime suspects – three of them minors.
By Grace Cantal-Albasin
Bulatlat.com Minadano Bureau
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The controversy generated by the city government’s move to parade 10 suspected criminals – three of them minors – around the city last week forced the City Police Office to cancel another “shame walk” last Friday. Critics and human rights groups have assailed the act as a gross violation of the basic rights of suspected criminals, particularly the minors.
Police Chief Inspector Antonio Montalba, the city’s police chief, had justified the “shame walk” as a preventive measure. According to him, citizens – future victims – would be able to recognize the suspects, hence they would steer clear of them. “If their future victims could recognize them then they could be stopped,” Montalba told a local radio station.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a human rights advocate and this city’s former mayor, was readying charges against Montalba, who ordered the suspected thieves and snatchers to be paraded around the city under the scorching heat of the sun, and with tags hanging down their necks that said “I am a snatcher.”
Pimentel said he was waiting for the sworn affidavits and pieces of evidence, like the photographs and video footage taken while the suspected criminals were being paraded around the city.
“We can include Mayor Vicente Emano as one of the respondents if the evidence would warrant his involvement in this outright human rights violation,” Pimentel said.
He added: “We are operating under the rule of law and bragging about it in effect has provided them (the authorities) their own rope to hang themselves.” Pimentel said the least that could happen to Montalba is suspension.
Emano challenged Pimentel and his political rivals to file the charges against him, not the police. He praised Montalba’s “shame walk.”
“The suspected criminals were not manhandled. They were just shown around the city so that they could be recognized by their future victims. Is this bad? What the police did is for the protection of the residents here. What about the victims – were they protected from these scrupulous suspects? ” an irate Emano lashed out at his rivals during a radio interview on Tuesday.
Emano further said that the method was better than the doing the “shortcut” – that is to summarily execute the suspected criminals.
Vigilante killings are rampant in the area. Almost every week, suspected gang members are summarily executed, yet the crime rate does not drop. Even the “shame walk” did not deter the robbery incidents here.
Lawyer Noel Beja, City Councilor and chairman of the Committee on Police, criticized the police for the gross violation of the criminals’ human rights. “The police was wrong since it has contradicted the Bill of Rights not to subject suspected criminals to public ridicule,” he said.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the human rights group Karapatan in Northern Mindanao lambasted the police for ignoring the human rights of the suspects who are yet to be proven guilty in the courts.
Activist lawyer Beverly Ann Musni said that the city government’s anti-crime efforts should not be done at the expense of the basic rights of the people, primarily the presumption of innocence.
She said everyone has the right to due process, the right against inhuman and cruel treatment, right to counsel and the right to appeal after conviction.
“The ‘shame walk’ violates the guarantee of the Constitution. It was a summary trial and conviction by adverse publicity. It is just a milder case of summary execution,” Musni told Bulatlat.com.
Musni saw the shame walk as discrimination against the poor. She said the city government can never do such a thing to the rich people who are accused of estafa, swindling, murder, among others.
Musni cited the case of former presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada, or Eduardo Cojuangco and Panfilo Lacson, all of whom have run afoul with the law at one time or another.
“Why don’t they parade the alleged plunderers in the city and the province? I challenge Montalba to parade these government officials being charged with plunder,” Musni said.
Musni cited the faulty justice system of the country, saying “What if those suspected criminals turn out to be innocent?” She said the act smacked of usurpation of power by the executive over the courts, as the police and the city government have acted as judge, jury and executioner.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Region 10 told Bulatlat.com that it would wait for the investigation of the Commission on Human Rights. Police Sr. Supt. Tito Cagurangan said the police could not be involved as yet. “We don’t tolerate any violations on human rights. Montalba alleged that it was Mayor Emano who ordered the ‘shame walk.’ It’s Emano who should be investigated,” Cagurangan said.
The CHR in Northern Mindanao has already asked Montalba to explain the incident.
According to Amnesty International, violations of human rights, particularly those involving minors who are in conflict with the law, have been increasing in the Philippines. (Read Amnesty’s report Philippines: A different childhood: the apprehension and detention of child suspects and offenders.)