Department of Justice

DOJ’s damning review of PNP lapses in drug war a ‘bluff’?

Lian Buan
Initial information says the DOJ review covered only 328 cases. 'We intend to come out with further findings and recommendations,' says Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay.

International group Human Rights Watch (HRW) tagged as a “bluff” the Department of Justice (DOJ’s) damning partial report that admits lapses in police operations that killed drug suspects.

“This whole statement is like a magician’s trick – with the big reveal that the police didn’t faithfully investigate or follow procedures to excite the international community audience, but then nothing further,” said HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this week that the DOJ’s review of nanlaban cases (where policemen killed allegedly armed suspects resisting arrest) – found that the Philippine National Police (PNP) neither followed protocol nor examined weapons of cops in such situations.

Guevarra’s unprecedented move doesn’t seem to fit the pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration that the drug war is above board and that the killing of armed drug suspects by the police is justified. 

Robertson said that “while it might look like the DOJ is throwing the PNP under the bus,” the fact remains that they’re all working together. The DOJ-led interagency review includes the PNP, but excluded the independent Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Robertson said the DOJ knows that if it pushes too hard, the PNP might “blow the whistle on whatever political instructions were sent down from Malacañang and from the Secretary.” Robertson said it’s the reason why the DOJ can only go as far with its review.

“The way to proceed now is to call the DOJ’s bluff by demanding they reveal in toto all the supposed ‘internal investigations’ the police allegedly undertook, and what punishments, if any, were meted out against the officers involved,” said Robertson.

Guevarra had said they will “prod” the PNP to file complaints against erring cops, but that members of the panel will step in if they don’t.

A small coverage

While Guevarra told the UNHRC they would look into 5,655 nanlaban cases, the partial report apparently covered just a few.

Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay told reporters that they culled documents from 916 cases brought to the National Prosecution Service (NPS) as of December 11, 2020 but that only 328 were made available for review. He has not responded as of writing to clarifications, including the nature of the “cases” he was referring to. 

“What we have thus far is an initial report. And we intend to continue the review of cases involving anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred. We intend to come  out with further findings and recommendations,” Sugay said.

Sugay added, the PNP is set to come out with a report by the first week of March, to respond to the DOJ’s findings and recommendations.

This is further delay to an already protracted process of filing cases, said human rights lawyers, who believe that nanlaban cases are actually ripe for filing on the day of the killing itself. The drug war has been going on for nearly 5 years.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for summary executions Agnes Callamard said the DOJ review must be prepared to look at the potential liability of President Rodrigo Duterte as an instigator of killings. 

Guevarra was vague in his answers when asked about this.

Asked if the review would hold senior officials liable, and not just low-level cops, Sugay was just as vague: “Any and all possible administrative/criminal liability against those involved in these anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred may be pursued depending on any further findings/recommendations.”

A Rappler investigation showed that the Duterte government submitted “rubbish” files to the Supreme Court, and thus was able to stall the drug war case there for almost 4 years now. The files showed a poorly documented centerpiece campaign.

Part of the investigation revealed patterns in what are allegedly vigilante killings in Bulacan – where they were concentrated, the inclusion of the victims in the government’s drug watch lists, and a tendency for families to back out from pursuing cases. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.