War on drugs: How the PNP responds to abuse, corruption charges

Bea Cupin
War on drugs: How the PNP responds to abuse, corruption charges

Alecs Ongcal

When faced with allegations – allegedly from their own men – the PNP has a rather predictable response

MANILA, Philippines – When confronted with yet another allegation of police being paid to kill – legally through police operations and illegally through apparent summary executions – the Philippine National Police (PNP) is quick to come up with an answer: “Take a look at who’s reporting the allegations, and for those within our ranks making those allegations, man up and talk to us.”

So when Reuters on Tuesday, April 18, released a special report detailing how police supposedly killed in exchange for cash and staged crime scenes, PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos was quick to cast doubt on the report’s sources – a retired intelligence officer and a current police commander.

Sana nga ho, they man up, hindi yung magtago sa likod ng white cloth. They are former and current members of the organization, there’s an established procedure. There’s a grievance committee. Sana i-avail nila ito,” said Carlos in a press briefing on April 18.

(I hope they man up and not hide behind a white cloth. They are former and current members of the organization, there’s an established procedure. There’s a grievance committee. Hopefully they avail of this.)

That they chose to speak to the media and give details in the Reuters report, Carlos argued, was proof of their “current mindset” about violating the PNP’s set procedures.

The latest Reuters story is based largely on an unpublished report entitled, “The State-Sponsored Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines,” authored by an unnamed retired intelligence officer. 

The 26-page document was first shown to Rappler in February, shortly after it was distributed to key members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for their plenary. (READ: CBCP denounces ‘reign of terror’ in Duterte drug war)

Sources in Camp Crame confirmed that the report has yet to reach PNP top officials – even if the report’s author says they sourced information from 12 active and 5 retired police personnel.

What the report says

“First, we defer to comment immediately on the report,” said Carlos at first, when asked to comment on the Reuters story. The PNP spokesman went on to debunk the report as cited by the news agency anyway.

The report covers a wide range of topics, starting from the formation of the so-called “Davao Death Squad” and how it allegedly evolved into the “Presidential Death Squad”, down to the “cycles in carrying out EJK (extrajudicial killings).” A chapter also discusses how the alleged “state-sponsored EJK” in the country is a ‘form of ‘social cleansing.’”

PNP CHIEF. Dela Rosa speaks to police in Camp Crame, the same day he announces a stop to all anti-illegal drug operations in January 2017. Photo courtesy of the PNP PIO

“In the most detailed insider accounts yet of the drug war’s secret mechanics, the two senior officials challenged the government’s explanations of the killings in interviews with Reuters,” reads the April 18 news report. Of the two, one was a former and another a current police official, both of them playing a part in the creation of the report.

Several of the claims made in the report are not new. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in their respective reports, have claimed instances when police executed drug suspects and planted faked evidence to cover their tracks.

Both reports, released in February and March 2017, respectively, claimed money is given – to either police or hired gunmen – whenever a drug suspect is killed.

Unlike the Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports, however, the unpublished document did not collate data from police reports, interviews from surviving family members of those killed, or from people in areas where drug-related deaths were reported. The report relied solely on insider information within and surrounding the PNP.

The January 2017 unpublished report goes further, detailing the supposed breakdown of bounty for different targets:

  • Targets in the Drug Watch list – P20,000
  • Persons not in the Drug Watch list – P10,000
  • Barangay Kagawads in the Drug Watch list – P50,000
  • Barangay Chairpersons in the Drug Watch list – P100,000
  • Distributors, retailers, and wholesalers – P1 million to P2 million 
  • “Drug Lords” in the Order of Battle and Drug Watch list – P5 million

This was one of the claims Carlos debunked quickly.

Medyo mataas yung mga figures, mga amount (The figures are quite high). And clearly, [PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa] has answered that, that we don’t have that much funds, much more to spend that amount on such things,” he said.

He then added: “Unang-una, iligal, bawal (First of all, it’s illegal, it’s not allowed).”

The PNP also downplayed the report’s claims about police conniving with local officials to turn off security cameras in areas where a kill is going to be made.

Napakahirap gawin (That’s very difficult to do) at the ground level because we don’t have control over the closed circuit television operation or the recording. Second, walang ganoong instructions (There are no instructions like that)…under the PNP,” he said.

The PNP has been at the forefront of President Rodrigo Duterte’s popular but bloody war on drugs. Police were ordered to stop all anti-illegal drug operations for a month, however, after it was alleged that a member of its anti-narcotics unit planned and carried out the kidnap and murder of a South Korean businessman. 

They officially rejoined the drugs war on March 1, 2017, after a 4-week hiatus.

Since Duterte assumed power in July 2016, police say more than 2,500 drug suspects have been killed in police operations. Another 1,500 homicides, meanwhile, have been linked to illegal drugs. Another 3,500 or so deaths are still under investigation. 

Old allegations, old denials

Carlos added that the PNP will be “investigating” the “recycled” allegations.

Unless they want to come out and say that we’re doing it, we’re the one killing it, yun naman sinasabi nila doon so (that’s what they’re saying in the report) definitely, not sanctioned by the PNP, there’s no such orders or instructions coming from the PNP leadership. So sana, ma-validate nga (Hopefully, we can validate these things) that’s why I’m asking the reporter, have they done this, before we reply on the specifics,” he said.

Ang hinihingi natin, malaman yung motive ng nagbibigay ng pahayag (What we’re asking… we want to know the motive of those making these allegations),” added the spokesman.

In the past, the PNP also trained its guns at alleged whistle-blowers in its ranks, amid apparent exposés on how the “war on drugs” is being used and abused.

Back in October 2016, reacting to a report of The Guardian that alleged police were forming “police special operation teams” to target criminals, particularly those with ties to illegal drugs, Dela Rosa said: “For the record I vehemently deny such formation of a hit squad. Kailangan pa ba natin mag-hit squad na p’wede mo namang gamitin ang regular performance duties ng isang ordinaryong pulis para diyan sa drugs? Bakit kailangan pa ng hit squad?

(Why would you need to form a hit squad when you can use the regular performance duties of a regular cop for anti-illegal drug operations? Why would you need a hit squad?)

That same month, when he was asked about another Reuters report that quoted a police official as saying that Duterte’s “arbitrary” figures in the drugs war was putting a strain on government personnel, Dela Rosa was visibly peeved.

If they are dissatisfied sa nangyayari, eh be open to the chief [of the PNP], kung ayaw niyong kausapin yung [regional director], si chief ang kausapin ninyo. ‘Wag yung mag-ganyan kayo sa media na magsasabi ng ganoon,” he said then.

(If they are dissatisfied with that’s happening, be open to the PNP chief. If they don’t want to talk to their regional director, talk to me. But don’t go to the media to talk about those things.)

EJK? A woman shows a photo of her late husband and son, alleged victims of summary executions at the hands of police. File by Darren Langit/Rappler

The PNP chief said choosing to talk to the media ahead of the PNP’s hierarchy was conduct unbecoming for uniformed personnel but a form of “insubordination.”

As in previous instances where police make allegations while remaining anonymous, the PNP said it wants to find out who made the allegations. 

“The resource persons, if the allegations were true, if these were true, who were responsible… kailangan nating malaman yun (we need to know those things),” said Carlos when asked whether the investigation would focus on the sources or the claims in the Reuters report. 

Dela Rosa has yet to respond to the Reuters report or the 26-page document as of this posting. But should he read its full contents, the former Davao City police chief might feel more than peeved this time.

Other allegations

The document alleges members of the notorious “Davao Death Squad” (DDS) were deployed to Metro Manila under the orders of Duterte, long-time Davao mayor. The DDS members, the report claims, were eventually “integrated” into the PNP itself – all with the full knowledge and consent of Dela Rosa.

Two “independent sources which have access to DDS activities and personalities” are cited as sources of the information.

Fund-raising for the so-called DDS members and the eventual “Presidential Death Squad” were allegedly sourced from several personalities with dreams of plum positions in key government posts – P2.5 million from each wannabe government official, if the report is to be believed.

“It was uncovered from an informed source that PDS in NCR collected a total amount of P10 million from several aspirants,” claims the report, while adding that funds were also sourced from the illegal numbers game jueteng

The report’s author told Reuters he was worried about the drug war’s impact on the PNP and wanted “to put Duterte on the defensive.”

“The intelligence officer said he hoped the report would be used as evidence at the International Criminal Court,” Reuters said.

How the PNP will respond to the report – penned by one of its own and sourced from personnel still in their ranks – is something that’s yet to be seen. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.