File photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – While it is hard to pinpoint exactly how many have been killed in the Duterte administration's drug war, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) believes that it has exceeded the number being peddled by the state.
“Actual number is certainly higher than what is suggested [by police],” CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon told reporters on Friday, August 18.
Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) show that as of July 26, 3,451 suspected drug personalities had been killed in legitimate operations. An official number of drug-related vigilante killings, however, remain elusive.
The death count concerning the bloody anti-illegal drug campaign has been at the center of debate, with allies of President Rodrigo Duterte openly disputing reports.
In fact, in the early months of 2017, authorities consistently denied the death toll stated in various reports of human rights groups, media, and some government officials. (READ: TIMELINE: The PNP's use of the term 'deaths under investigation’)
Gascon acknowledged that the police used to be consistent in providing the public the official numbers but recently “pulled back.”
But the commission, as part of the government, has to take into consideration the official data given.
CHR also monitors the tallies being done by human rights groups and various media organizations, such as the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), which had cited at least 12,000 deaths – including those allegedly killed by vigilantes.
For Gascon, a database can fill in the gap left by the lack of official data on killings outside police operations.
“The scale and phase is unprecedented and we wish we could do more but it’s not that easy,” he said. “What we see that is important is documenting cases so we can hold those accountable in the future.”
Cooperation needed from PNP
Created under the 1987 Constitution, the CHR is tasked to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by state actors such as the military or police. (READ: Things to know: Human rights in the Philippines)
Latest data from the task force on extrajudicial killings show that they have been investigating over 600 incidents of killings. At least 90% are motu propio or on CHR’s own initiative.
According to Commissioner Gwen Gana, CHR has filed 17 cases before the Office of the Prosecutor and 6 with the Office of the Ombudsman.
As they continue with their investigations, the commission has drawn the ire of the administration with Duterte even threatening to order police to shoot human rights advocates if they “obstruct” justice.
Gascon, however, said that they will continue to assert the law and due process.
“When you have a government that is extremely powerful that wants to do whatever it wills and challenges checking mechanisms in place, we can’t just allow that to happen,” he stressed. “We have to to do what we can with what we have.” – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.