Rule of law in Asia and drugs-related murders in PH

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on March 30, 2017.

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While there is continuing (legal and political) debate whether extrajudicial killings (EJK) are happening in the Duterte administration or not, there is no debate that thousands of mysterious murders, often drug-related, have occurred since President Duterte won the May 2016 elections.

So far, death toll of drug-related murders from mid-May 2016 to February 2017 is estimated at 7,000+. The Philippine National Police (PNP) released its official data, indicating that from July 1, 2016 to Jan. 24, 2017, some 2,539 “killed during police operations.”

I have no sympathy with drug lords, drug pushers, and hardened drug users/addicts who steal and commit other crimes just to sustain their addiction and trade. But I also believe that all suspects should be given due process. Armed agents of the state (PNP, NBI, PDEA, sometimes the AFP) should go through the legal process of investigation-apprehension-prosecution cycle and not commit shortcuts of outright murders based on flimsy reasons like “nanlaban eh” (fought the officers) even inside police precincts or even inside the prison cells.

There are many drug-related murders that are outside the “killed during police operations” and these were committed by armed vigilantes. Some of these “vigilantes” were found to be policemen themselves like the two officers caught in Mindoro last October 2016 after they murdered a woman.

To better address the drugs problem and related corruption and murders, we can learn from our neighbors in Asia how they enforce the rule of law, the criminal justice system in particular.

The World Justice Project (WJP) produces an annual study, the “Rule of Law Index” (ROLI) and score countries based on their performance on eight factors and 44 sub-factors. The eight factors are: (1) Constraints on Government Powers, (2) Absence of Corruption, (3) Open Government, (4) Fundamental Rights, (5) Order and Security, (6) Effective Regulatory enforcement, (7) Civil Justice, and (8) Criminal Justice.

The WJP’s Index team has developed a set of questionnaires based on the Index’s conceptual framework, then it engaged 2,700 expert surveys in 113 countries and jurisdictions and involved more than 110,000 households as respondents to the experts’ questionnaires.

Below is a summary table from ROLI 2016 in Asia. The Philippines’ scores in ROLI 2014 and 2015 reports are also included. The following acronyms stand for: SG Singapore, SK South Korea, JP Japan, HK Hong Kong, MY Malaysia, ID Indonesia, TH Thailand, PH Philippines, CN China, and CM Cambodia (see table).

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The numbers point to the following:

One, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong are developed economically mainly because they have high observance and respect for the rule of law as reflected in their high ROLI scores, also high scores in component #8, the criminal justice system. In contrast, communist China and Cambodia have low respect for rule of law and have low scores.

Two, ASEAN 5 — Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines — have middle scores in overall ROLI, which is somehow good news. But in component #8, Indonesia and Philippines have low scores.

Three, the Philippines has shown consistent low scores in component #8 for the past three years. In particular, very low scores in the four highlighted items — CS Adjudication and Correctional system are not effective, the Justice system is highly discriminatory and due process is not properly observed.

Some of our developed neighbors like Singapore have death penalty against drug-related crimes, true. The difference is that the accused are given due process and the chance to prove their innocence and not summarily executed just based on suspicions.

What deters criminal behavior is stricter observance of the rule of law, the near-certainty of apprehension and imprisonment of violators, even if they may be the law enforcers themselves. This is the kind of criminal justice system that we need. Not state-sponsored or state-inspired or state-tolerated murders.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the head of Minimal Government Thinkers and a Fellow of SEANET; both institutes are members of EFN Asia.

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