war on drugs

After DOJ findings vs police, rights groups say ‘imperative’ to end drug war

Jodesz Gavilan
After DOJ findings vs police, rights groups say ‘imperative’ to end drug war

CRIME. A police line surrounds a crime scene.

Rappler file photo

NUPL president Edre Olalia says the report failed to answer a 'fundamental and more crucial' question: Why did these extrajudicial killings happen in the first place?

Human rights groups on Wednesday, February 24, said the Duterte administration should immediately halt its flagship anti-illegal drugs campaign after an inter-agency panel review found that police did not follow protocols in the conduct of operations.

In a statement on Wednesday, February 24, Karapatan said that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra failed to mention a “very important point” that killings continue despite what he claimed to be working domestic accountability mechanisms.

“If at all, the initial findings of the drug war panel as cited by [Guevarra] have only made the call to stop the killings and the policy on the drug war even more imperative,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

“Such findings only prove that an independent probe is even more important, at a time that the human rights situation has gone into a steep descent to a full-blown crisis under an authoritarian regime,” she added.

Guevarra announced that the inter-agency review panel tasked to investigate killings discovered that in more than half of the operations reviewed, “the law enforcement agents involved failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene,” among other findings.

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‘Too belittling and too belated’

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Guevarra said the Philippine National Police had conducted “appropriate internal investigations of thousands of these incidents.” He added that police officers have been recommended for criminal and administrative action.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia, however, said that these domestic mechanisms the government is touting are functioning “to delay, deny, and deprive full justice to [victims].”

“It appears that the inter-agency report wittingly or unwittingly diverts the primary and sole blame on lowly police operatives and insulated and saved the principal enablers of the extrajudicial killings,” he said, referring to Duterte and other officials.

While the report confirmed what groups have been criticizing since 2016, Olalia emphasized that the findings “dodged the fundamental and more crucial question.”

“Why did these EJKs (extrajudicial killings) happen in the first place?” he asked.

“It is too belittling and too belated. Stopping the bloody approach to the drug menace is an imperative,” Olalia added.

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Logical step

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia researcher Carlos Conde said that putting an end to the violent drug war immediately is the appropriate next move.

“If the government is serious about its findings, that’s the logical and right thing to do – to stop the ‘drug war’ immediately,” he told Rappler in an email.

“They cannot say police are liable but continue with the campaign just the same,” Conde added.

In a separate statement, HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that the findings “show both the DOJ and senior police were asleep at the switch as the drug war killings accelerated and intensified.”

“The real name for that is impunity, and these police failures were so systematic that these oversights go well past the accidental or inadvertent failures,” he said.

The inter-agency panel’s preliminary report came almost two months after the panel completed its review in December 29, 2020. The report was then submitted to Duterte.

Launched in June 2020, the review panel was seen by many as a way to evade accountability over the thousands of killings under Duterte’s drug war, which is under scrutiny by both the UNHRC and the International Criminal Court, among others.

It also came in the aftermath of a scathing report by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet who said that the drug war is being carried out without due regard to rule of law.

Duterte’s drug war is currently the subject of a case before the Supreme Court. But a Rappler investigation showed that the Duterte government was able to stall the case by submitting “rubbish” files. – Rappler.com

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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.