CHR to DOJ: Don't forget thousands of drug war deaths waiting for justice

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday, October 20, reminded the Duterte government not to ignore the thousands of victims killed under the violent war on drugs, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) released information about cases it is investigating.

While the commission welcomed the matrix that featured 50 drug war-related deaths, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said that ensuring justice for all victims of "widespread and systematic" human rights violations is a "primary state obligation."

"While we see movement, CHR continues to urge the government to remain mindful of the remaining thousands of alleged EJK cases waiting for resolution and justice," she said in a statement.

The DOJ on Wednesday made public a matrix featuring information on 50 cases of deaths in police anti-drug operations, which showed findings of abuses and lapses in protocol, among others.

These investigated cases, however, are but a small part of the total number of deaths under President Rodrigo Duterte's violent war on drugs. Official government data shows there were 6,191 deaths in police anti-drug operations alone as of September 31.

This count does not include victims of vigilante-style killings, which human rights group estimate to reach 27,000 to 30,000.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the small number of cases out of thousands "hardly indicate compliance with transparency and accountability."

"If anything, this only raises the question as to what happened with all the other cases, whether those were investigated or are being investigated, and whether the government is willing to be transparent about them," HRW senior Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said.

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The release of the matrix is the latest in a long-running, back-and-forth between local and international human right groups - including United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet – and the government.

The full reports remained as "confidential memo" to Duterte, the main person behind the violent campaign.

CHR said it hoped that the matrix would be helpful to stakeholders, especially victims' families, as they grapple with ways to seek justice for their loved ones.

The commission also hoped that it would "encourage witnesses to come out" and help investigations, which mostly arrive at dead ends due to uncooperative police officers, lack of documents, and climate of fear. (READ: In Duterte’s drug war, justice is ‘nearly impossible’)

"CHR stresses that the first step towards making perpetrators accountable for their offenses is through genuine and straightforward investigations," De Guia said.

There is still no assurance, however, if the DOJ and the PNP would finally open their case folders and the full reports to the CHR. The government has stonewalled on this data even though CHR is mandated by the 1987 Philippine Constitution to investigate state abuses.

CHR, however, said that it remained committed in helping seek resolution and improve the situation in the country.

"CHR remains open, willing, and ready to assist through our independent probe, provided that we are given access to pertinent case files as well," De Guia said.

UN righs chief Bachelet in October 7 called on the government to include CHR, which has been kept out of the loop for so long, in its reviews "to ensure an effective and victim-centered process."

Bachelet's office previously released a scathing report in 2020 which said that Duterte's war on drugs was carried out without due process and that the local system wasn’t enough to exact accountability over the killings.

The International Criminal Court's pre-trial chamber recently green-lit an investigation into Duterte's violent campaign. The chamber said that killings "took place in pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy." – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

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.

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