MANILA, Philippines – A report from the State Department of the United States noted that in 2017 – a year after the Duterte administration launched its "drug war" – extrajudicial killings (EJKs) continued to be the main human rights concern in the Philippines.
In its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2017 for the Philippines released on Friday, April 20, the US State Department said that EJKs "have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the anti-drug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017."
The US State Department also noted that the decision to make the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency the "sole agency" in the anti-drug campaign in October 2017 prompted "a drop in reported extrajudicial killings."
According to the report, the numbers of alleged EJKs "varied widely, as government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions."
Based on the government's tally as of March 20, there have been 4,075 drug suspects killed in anti-drug operations, most of which were carried out by police.
A total of 2,467 "drug-related" killings outside government operations have also been tallied from July 2016 to March 2018.
However, human rights groups have pegged the death toll at around 12,000. (READ: EU Parliament calls for end to EJKs in Philippines)
The government insists that not all deaths in the "war on drugs" are EJKs, pointing to a 2012 administrative order by the justice department which limits its definition to killings of advocates/activists or media practitioners by state or non-state agents "because of the actual or perceived membership, advocacy, or profession."
In a statement on Saturday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said the government's campaign against criminality, most especially against illegal drugs, "seeks to promote the welfare and protect the human rights of all Filipinos – to save lives, to preserve families, to protect communities and stop the country from sliding into a narco-state."
The US State Department had also taken note of the killings in Duterte's anti-drug campaign in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016.
But the 2017 US report also noted that concerns about police impunity "increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings."
President Rodrigo Duterte "publicly rejected criticism of police killings, but he said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law," said the US State Department.
The report also said: "There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs."
"Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by anti-government insurgents and unknown assailants also continued."
The report listed down other significant human rights issues in the Philippines, such as:
– Michael Bueza/Rappler.com