Rodrigo Duterte

Inaction on Duterte’s drug war killings haunts Guevarra under Marcos

Jodesz Gavilan

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Inaction on Duterte’s drug war killings haunts Guevarra under Marcos

JUSTICE SECRETARY. File photo shows then-justice secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra with then-president Rodrigo Duterte.


Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra ‘vehemently denies’ that he was part of a cover-up during the Duterte administration. But how will he explain the lackluster performance of the much-touted drug war review panel?

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra has had an illustrious career in both private law practice and government, but his stint as justice secretary under Rodrigo Duterte haunts his long years in service. 

On Tuesday, May 21, lawmakers at the House of Representatives grilled Guevarra on the apparent lack of action in investigating the killings committed under Duterte’s violent war on drugs. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) under his watch led the drug war review panel, just one of the things Guevarra has done, which the local human rights community saw as a “ruse” to evade ICC jurisdiction. Generally, the ICC steps aside when it sees local justice working.

Ipapasa ba ang responsibilidad eh kayo ang may responsibilidad noon? Naisip ko, parang part kayo ng cover-up,” said ACT Teachers Partylist Representative France Castro.

As DOJ secretary, kayo po ang most responsible dito,” Castro added.

(Why are you passing on the responsibility for something you were responsible for back then? I can’t help but think that you’re part of the cover-up. As DOJ secretary, you were the most responsible.)

Castro was referring to the prosecution – or lack of it – of the 6,252 killings committed by the police in legitimate anti-drug operations under Duterte. Guevarra was justice secretary under Duterte from 2018 until 2022, when he was appointed solicitor general by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

For a long time, human rights advocates have been demanding proof that the government investigated and prosecuted these killings. The prosecution service is under the Department of Justice. When the opening of the investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was on the horizon, Guevarra launched a reinvestigation of the killings.

“I categorically deny, for the record, that the DOJ and particularly myself, was involved in a cover-up,” said Guevarra.

The Guevarra-led reinvestigation, however, resulted in a matrix of only 52 cases of killings committed by police officials. It even excluded key agencies, such as the Commission on Human Rights, in the conduct of its probe. 

Guevarra said their work faced challenges, including the lack of witnesses, or families coming forward to file complaints. Families of drug war victims, however, previously told Rappler that state agents continued to harass them. 

The coronavirus pandemic also hampered the work of the panel, said Guevarra, forcing the DOJ to reduce its planned nationwide coverage and just used records from the National Prosecution Services and the PNP’s Internal Affairs Services (IAS). 

Ang dating po sa amin, kung ang 52 lamang o 56 ang ibinigay sa amin na meron silang nakitang lapses, conversely, ang conclusion doon sa natirang mahigit 6,000 na kaso, ang conclusion ng IAS ay walang lapses na nangyari,” he explained. “Conversely, iyon ang aming interpretation, kasi 52 o 56 lang ang sinubmit sa amin,” Guevarra added. 

(If they gave us only 52 or 56 cases where they saw lapses, our interpretation is that IAS saw no lapses in the remainder of the 6,000-plus cases. Conversely, that was our interpretation because there were only 52 or 56 submitted to us.)

House committee chairperson Benny Abante, however, disagreed that the blame should be pinned on the pandemic. He pointed out that legislators utilized various tools to continue their work.

Dito sa Kongreso, hindi kami na-hamper dahil sa pandemic, meron kaming Zoom,” he said. “If Congress hindi na-hamper, paano kayo, meron kayong NBI, may prosecutors.” 

(Here in Congress, we weren’t hampered by the pandemic. We had Zoom. If Congress wasn’t hampered, what more with the DOJ, which has the NBI, prosecutors.) 

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Ultimately, Castro said that the DOJ under Guevarra should have fully exercised its powers back then to address the high number of killings that are yet to be investigated, instead of just talking about proposing an independent commission now. 

The hearing initiated by the House committee on human rights sought to “seek the truth” on the extrajudicial killings, almost eight years after Duterte started his flagship campaign that killed as many as 30,000, including those killed by vigilantes. 

“Finally, the legislative branch has done something, has done its share to investigate these alleged abuses during the war on drugs,” said Guevarra.

How will the Solicitor General explain the lackluster performance of the drug war review panel that he led in his past life as justice secretary? Can he be tagged as being complicit in the impunity of that drug war? It would perhaps be up to the independent bodies – such as the ICC – to say. – with reports from Lian Buan/

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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 impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.