Culture of impunity

Published January 8, 2021, 11:52 PM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

That the present state of impunity had reached an alarming level  was shown by the recent filing of resolutions by six senators who asked for a legislative inquiry into the series of unlawful killings of citizens. Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri and Senators Grace Poe, Juan Edgardo Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, and Joel Villanueva were joined by Sen. Risa Hontiveros who also filed a resolution aimed at seeking justice for Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband and Sen. Imee Marcos who sought an investigation into the “alarming deaths and disappearances” of members of the legal community; and the Makabayan bloc in the Lower House which called for release of the “Human Rights Day 7” – a journalist and six labor organizers.

Actually this perception of rise in impunity started as early as 2009 when  the monstrous crime that the world will  never forget was perpetrated – the Maguindanao Massacre where 32 journalists and media workers along with 27 civilians were brutally murdered. Again, it was manifested in 2016 when the spate of 122 killings of children, including the 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, who were victims of collateral damage in the war on drugs.

Among violations filed at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council chaired by Michelle Bachelet, were thecrafting of policies against national security threats and illegal drugs resulting in thousands of killings, arbitrary detentions, and vilification of those who challenged the violations; red-tagging, and anti-terrorism law giving wider discretion to an already high number of warrantless arrests.

“Crimes and Unpunishment, The Killing of Filipino Journalists” by Braid, Maslog, Tuazon (eds.), published by Asian Institute of Journalism & Communication, 2012, and supported by UNESCO, is a product of a series of roundtable discussions held throughout the country, case studies on the killing of journalists, and in-depth analysis of “impunity from the perspectives of political science, political economy, anthropology, psychology, media studies, and law.

I suggest this book as a reference  because we cannot address the problem of impunity merely through traditional measures like strengthening law enforcement and the penal system. What is needed is to involve the entire society, first through undertaking further research into its origins so that we can have fuller understanding of this evil that  is primarily rooted in our culture and historical antecedents, and later, through action programs where each sector shall play an important role.

In our book, each analyst presented the various types of impunity and their causes and manifestations. From the cultural-anthropological perspective, Dr. Michael Tan presents (1) structural – where structures that serve to protect those who abuse power are institutionalized and legalized; (2)strategic – where active measures – laws, decrees, amnesties, or pardons – to derail processes or demands for truth and justice are taken up by state officials; and (3) political/psychological, or that which results from state terrorism whereby political options are restricted and controlled through manipulation of fear. The theory of “moral exclusion” (tendency to exclude those who do not belong to the clan or social circle).

From the psychological perspective, Dr. Ma. Lourdes Carandang notes these variables: (1) discipline  or saying “yes” to good behavior or “No” to inappropriate behavior, and its 5 C’s – conviction, that the rule is good, clarity – that it is clearly understood; consistency, consequence, and communicated to all concerned; (2) reinforcement of positive behaviors which is sometimes hindered by “pinagbibigyan”; and (3) bullying or intimidation and the “bystander.”

Dr. Clarita R. Carlos’ political prism explains impunity through “who gets what, when, and how in this country.” Killings, she notes,  are the consequences of “democratic deficits” of our political system, which are the gaps between promise and fulfillment;

Dr. Amado Mendoza examines crime and punishment from the political economy perspective – that criminals are guided by a “rewards vs. costs calculus – that rewards are greater than costs. The analysis of crime also considers the costs of crime prevention and punishment as well as its costly impact on society.

Law Dean Jose Manuel Diokno examines impunity through the prism of legal and social structures – that impunity cannot exist without the cooptation of three institutions – law enforcement, prosecution, and the courts. It is the consequence of failure by the state to meet its obligations – to investigate, and to take appropriate action;

Dr. Rolando Tolentino regards “hegemony” in commercial media, with media ownership in the hands of big business conglomerates as an undesirable factor that leads to media becoming a conduit for the culture of impunity.

Strengthening law enforcement and punitive measures are important but unless we involve the entire society, specifically, civil society, in such tasks as examining its manifestations in our economic, media, school, social networks and relationships, religion, moral and ethical codes, and ownership and control of our natural and economic resources, and coming up with action plans, we may not succeed in our attempt to curtail its growth.

This initial research should be enriched with further case studies, field  observations, and insights from other disciplines. We can then observe how our citizens respond to simple challenges in their environment – traffic control, waste disposal, new ordinances and laws on the barangay level, and to national challenges – political campaigns, voting, and relationships with the external world.

COVID-19 had presented newer challenges and an opportunity to observe the presence of impunity in government behavior and its relationship with its constituents, and how citizens  relate with one another

My e-mail, [email protected]