Peace is the Work of Justice

07 December 2020

Keynote Address
Philippine Human Rights Summit
Department of Justice
07 December 2020

Hon. Menardo I. Guevarra
Department of Justice


Justice Pax Opus.

Peace is the work of justice.

In May 2017, while the President was outside the country on an official visit, the Maute group mounted a siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur in Mindanao.

Maute group militants attacked Camp Ranao and occupied several significant facilities in the city, including its City Hall, a state university, a hospital and the city jail.

They sealed-off and occupied the main street of the city, set fire to the Saint Mary's Cathedral, and to two prominent educational institutions in the area.

The militants took as hostages a priest and several churchgoers.

According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, these militants were supported by foreign fighters affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Their main objective was to raise an ISIL flag at the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol and declare a wilayat or provincial ISIL territory in Lanao del Sur.

The attack led to months-long armed conflict that forced the evacuation of families and the dislocation of peoples, the disruption of economic enterprises, and the imposition of Martial rule in Mindanao.

While Martial law in the region has been lifted, the reconstruction of Marawi continues to this today.

The siege of Marawi and the battle to end it gave rise to the longest urban battle in the country's history.

More than anything, that siege reminds us that even in this modern age, peace remains as fragile as ever.

Worldwide, fundamentalism, radicalism, and terrorism, among others, force seemingly peaceful societies to relapse into conflict and violence.

The interconnected economy and the relative ease of movement of peoples across national boundaries place every state and every community -- no matter the size or economic status -- within the radar of groups and movements that espouse violence and fear.

Undeniably, war and armed conflict remain the affairs of the armed forces.

But peace does not.

The records of history remind us time and again that peace is not simply the absence of war.

As the intervals of calm between wars would show, the silence of tanks and guns, and the respite from war, do not secure peace.

True peace exists when the causes that are linked, or that give rise, to the waging of war are adequately addressed.

As one statesman remarked, to guarantee peace, we must guarantee not only freedom from fear but also the equally important freedom from want.

The guarantee of the freedom from fear may well be the task of our armed forces.

And there is no doubt that in places ravaged by armed conflict, restoring order is of crucial importance.

It is, however, not enough.

The restoration of peace in societies that lived through the atrocities of war and armed conflict -- including Marawi -- does not end with the recapture of occupied spaces and the rehabilitation of destroyed infrastructures.

Accountability before the law is as much a crucial component of every effort to attain and rebuild peace.

Societies with history of war that have traded justice for peace do so at the risk of perpetuating a cycle of violence and armed conflict in their midst.

For without justice, the perpetrators of aggression, war and violence will persevere in their mistaken belief that might is right.

Without justice, the victims of war and aggression will find neither security, nor reason to trust society anew.

Without justice, peace is compromised.

Justitiae Pax Opus.

Peace is the Work of Justice.

True peace demands more than mere security.

True peace requires that the rights and liberties of our people are recognized by law, and guaranteed by the institutions through which they are enforced.

It is this understanding that informed the Department of Justice and the other agencies of the government as we drafted the rules and regulations which seek to implement the provisions of the new anti-terrorism law enacted by our Congress this year.

As the Marawi siege demonstrated, even in this modern age, peaceful societies must constantly guard against the reality and the continuing threat from different forms of aggression, terrorism included.

We must protect our families, communities, and way of life from the forces that seek to destroy them.

But this we must do in ways that secure not only public order, but also our most sacred rights and liberties.

It is this understanding that led us to amplify in the rules the protection accorded by the anti-terrorism law to the exercise of civil and political rights that do not endanger life or public safety.

The law excluded such exercise from its definition of acts of terror.

The rules implementing the law now clarify that the burden to proveintent to endanger life or public safety is a burden upon the prosecution.

This prevents abuse of the law to trifle with our people’s exercise of their most fundamental rights.

Moreover, the implementing rules mandate the publication by the Anti-Terrorism Council of the names of persons it designates as terrorists.

By institutionalizing public notice concerning the result of the ATC’s designation process, we give those adversely affected the opportunity to contest the designation and to avail themselves of delisting as a remedy.

These safeguards, among other measures, have been included in the implementing rules to ensure that the anti-terrorism law serves its purpose without invading the cherished rights and prerogatives of a people under a functioning democracy.

We take this opportunity to thank the United Nations -- through the UN Resident Coordinator -- for their offer of technical assistance in the undertaking to ensure that the anti-terrorism rules conform to the fundamental tenets of human rights laws.

We likewise thank the UN and the Commission on Human Rights for their support in conceptualizing and developing this Summit, which is meant to be a component of the Philippines - United Nations Joint Programme on Human Rights.

We look forward to your assistance and cooperation in the Department’s other initiatives included in the Joint Program on Human Rights.

One such initiative is the further enhancement of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, otherwise known as the AO 35 Task Force.

Since its establishment eight years ago, the Inter-Agency Task Force has been investigating and prosecuting cases involving intimidation, violence, and killings allegedly perpetrated to silence dissent and opposition raised by members of civil society, cause-oriented groups, political movements, people’s and non-government organizations, and ordinary citizens.

To this day, the AO 35 Task Force continues in this work with unwavering dedication and zeal.

It investigates and prosecutes state and non-state actors alike.

In doing so, it not only ensures criminal accountability for wrongdoing; its work is also proof of our continuing adherence to the fundamental tenets of human rights.

However, like many other institutions elsewhere entrusted with the investigation and prosecution of cases which, by their very nature and because of the perpetrators involved, are sensitive and difficult, the Task Force understandably faces significant challenges.

Under our current system, law enforcers ordinarily conduct case investigation while prosecutors hold preliminary investigation where they receive evidence and assess if they are sufficient to meet the threshold of probable cause.

A different arrangement exists for cases handled by the AO 35 Task Force.

In this arrangement, prosecutors themselves head the investigation of cases.

This ensures the objectivity of the investigation process, especially in cases that involve state actors as possible perpetrators.

But prosecutors have been trained to receive, handle and present evidence from law enforcers.

If they are to spearhead investigations, they must be trained not only to work with law enforcers; they themselves must know how to gather evidence from crime scenes, and to search for and follow leads.

More importantly, as investigators, they too must learn how to pursue witnesses.

Securing the cooperation and objectivity of a witness in ordinary criminal cases is already a huge challenge.

It is more so in cases handled by the Task Force.

In some instances, the testimony of witnesses who surface appears polluted, colored by motivations other than the pursuit of the truth.

In many others, witnesses refuse to cooperate altogether.

Fear usually forces witnesses into silence.

It is no wonder that some of our investigations face a blank wall, and not a few cases turn cold.

To further strengthen the Task Force, we need to upgrade the investigation skills of our prosecutors who lead the composite teams of investigators for human rights cases.

More importantly, if our quest for truth and justice is to bear fruit, we must secure the trust and cooperation of the people.

Towards this end, cultivating linkages between Task Force AO 35 and civil society, and establishing meaningful engagements between them to engender trust and confidence are important.

It is in these areas, among others, that technical assistance is urgently needed and therefore most welcome.

Ladies and gentlemen –

Our realities today may differ from those of decades past.

The threats we face, their causes and complications, and the forces behind them may be new.

But their very existence underscores the fragility of our peace.

Peace is made more fragile by solutions to conflict that are monopolized by resort to force and arms.

While the necessity of force and arms to repel and quench violence cannot be discounted, no society must rely on them alone to keep the peace.

To insist otherwise will court the disenchantment, alienation, and ire of the people, thereby fanning the very embers that threaten our fragile peace.

Neither is it possible to disregard security considerations in the equation of peace.

To do so is to recklessly endanger the lives and welfare of peoples, and make vulnerable our families and communities to the forces that threaten our comfort and way of life.

Peace is secured by carefully balancing the demands of our security and public order with our most cherished rights and liberties.

There is no other institution more fit to engage in this paramount task than our institutions of justice.

Advocates, lawyers, prosecutors, and our courts of law must not only constantly assess the threats to our peace and the order of our society; they must likewise weigh the dangers posed by their actions and decisions to the liberty and freedoms that define who we are as human beings.

They must calibrate each threat and danger, case by case, always conscious that their actions are scrutinized equally by those whose interests are pure and those with polluted motivations, and keenly aware that in every action, the peace we now enjoy hangs precariously in the balance.

Helping preserve this balance is a task for our institutions of justice.

It is these very institutions which – with the help of our partners and of the public we serve – we seek to further strengthen.

This Summit is an important step towards that end.

Intended to accelerate the human rights agenda and as a means to achieve the country’s Sustainable Development Goals, this Summit should serve as our platform for earnest, intelligent discourse so that we may strengthen sectoral engagement and international partnerships in addressing human rights challenges.

These engagements and partnerships will hopefully help bring about a society that is peaceful and inclusive, where the rights of the people are respected at all times, and where justice is accessible to all.

I therefore invite everyone to participate in the Summit’s various sessions in the spirit of collaboration,as we recognize that every perspective is incomplete, and that our imperfections are bridges towards openness, innovative approaches, and meaningful interdependence.

Together, let us work for justice.

Together, let us work for peace.

Thank you.

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