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Command Responsibility and Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines

t seems ironic that the principle of command responsibility is sometimes referred to as the Yamashita Standard. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte testing an assault weaponGeneral Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of the 14th Area Army of Japan was tried and and executed in Los Baños, Laguna in 1946 for the atrocities committed by his soldiers while in the Philippines. And yet command responsibility seems almost unheard-of in the country today.

The idea that a leader or commander bears responsibility for the unlawful conduct of subordinates however, dates all the way back to the sixth century BC as noted by Sun Tzu in The Art of War. Over the years, command responsibility has expanded to also include civilian heads of state and high-ranking public officials.

So the question arises as to why no one is being held accountable for the judicial killings in the Philippines? In the case of the Davao City deaths, there are eyewitnesses who say members of the police brazenly commit the murders even in broad daylight. And the mayor, Rodrigo Duterte regularly went on radio to broadcast stern warnings to specific individuals who later just happened to turn up dead.

No less than New York-based Human Rights Watch stated that "The words and actions of long-time Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte... indicate his support for the targeted killing of criminal suspects." Mayor Duterte, until last month, exercised operational control of Davao's police force and was himself a ranking member of the country's National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM). Panfilo Lacson during his days as head of the Phil. National Police (PNP) and his assistant Caesar Mancao who has issued an affidavit regarding the Dacer/Corbito slayingsClose to nine hundred vigilante-style killings have occurred in Davao since 1998. If it is determined that the city's law enforcement officials were involved, could Mayor Duterte be held accountable under the doctrine of command responsibility?

In other—and as yet unresolved—murders, that of Salvador 'Bubby' Dacer and his chauffer Emanuel Corbito, the Philippine Justice Dept. says it has the sworn affidavit of Caesar Mancao, a onetime trusted lieutenant of Panfilo Lacson when he (Lacson) headed the Philippine National Police (PNP), that would indicate that Lacson in some way had a hand in the killings. Mancao is currently in the United States awaiting extradition back to the Philippines. As with Duterte, if Mancao's affidavit is accurate, could now-Sen. Panfilo Lacson and possibly even former President Joseph Estrada be found liable under command responsibility?

While we're at it, we might as well go back even further to the murder that toppled a dictator over two decades ago—the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino. While some might argue that President Marcos did not or could not have ordered Sen. Aquino killed, shouldn't he be held ultimately responsible for it? US President Barrack Obama recently showed the American people—and the rest of the world—how a leader with integrity acts when he willing took responsibility for the 'AIG bonus' fiasco even though those bonuses were negotiated before he came into office. It would be refreshing to see that same kind of attitude amongst Filipino leaders.

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