Extrajudicial Killings and Shoot-to-Kill Orders

There are many issues which stand out in the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno Aquino III [see full transcript of original Filipino speech or the full text of English translation]. We’ll pick up an issue or two during our down time, maybe during the rare 4-day long weekend in August (National Heroes Day is August 29, a Monday, while the end of Ramadan is August 30).

Two words got my attention — extrajudicial killings. The converse of extrajudicial killing is obviously judicial killing, which connotes a court-sanctioned death penalty.  This term would have been accurate prior to the prohibition of death penalty under Republic Act No. 9346 (2006). It is now improper to use the phrase extrajudicial killings, as the imposition of death penalty is no longer allowed in the judicial system.

Perhaps it’s a force of habit, in the same way that we would still hear the phrase shoot-to-kill order. Certain government officials had mentioned shoot-to-kill in statements. There is no such concept in our legal system. Only the fictitious Agent 007 has the license to kill. Even law enforcement officers cannot shoot criminals on sight. They shoot to defend, not necessarily to kill. The manner of defense should be commensurate with the threat. Shooting to kill is always the last resort.

The phrase extralegal killings would be a good alternative. The opposite of extralegal killing is legal killing, which exists within the Philippine framework. To kill someone is legal in certain circumstances, primarily in self-defense. This is most probably the sense in which the phrase extrajudicial killings was used in the 2011 SONA. We’re not criticizing the speech; just using it as a springboard for this discussion.

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