Rodrigo Duterte

LIST: Officials who admitted post-Duterte that drug war was abusive

Jairo Bolledo

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LIST: Officials who admitted post-Duterte that drug war was abusive

VICTIMS. Human rights defenders and families affected by the killings of Duterte’s war on drugs show their support to Mary Ann Domingo as the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Branch 121 handed a guilty verdict to four police officers involved in the 2016 killing of Domingo's partner Luis and son Gabriel Bonifacio, on June 18, 2024.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

President Marcos himself admitted last year there were some abuses in the drug war launched by his predecessor

The House of Representatives is now doing an initiative unimaginable few years back: probe into former president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

The investigation, however, is eight years late as the bloody campaign has already taken around 30,000 individuals, if vigilante killings were to be included, according to several human rights groups’ tally. Duterte is also no longer the chief executive.

The probe – led by the House committee on human rights – and which is happening under the new administration, is among the indications of the weakening ties between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Dutertes. The hearings have already run a few times and have provided a two-way avenue: for drug war victims to share their harrowing nightmares and for some lawmakers to grill officials involved in the campaign.

As the hearings progress, it is becoming clearer where the probe is headed: Duterte. The clearest sign was when the panel finally invited the former president to the probe. In previous occasions, the panel did not directly invite the drug war “architect,” but rather notified him.

The continuous hearings have also led to important revelations, such as public officials admitting that the former president’s drug war was abusive.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Although not within the context of the ongoing hearings, Marcos admitted last year there were some abuses in the drug war launched by his predecessor.

In May 2023, Marcos said the “focus on enforcement” during Duterte’s drug war resulted in “abuses by certain elements in the government.” The incumbent president said this when asked about his government’s plan to “tackle that culture [of impunity] and human rights abuses” in the country.

“In my view, what had happened in the previous administration is that we focused very much on enforcement. And because of that, it could be said that there, and that has caused some concern…in many quarters about the human rights situation in the Philippines,” Marcos said.

Despite his statement, Marcos consistently defended Duterte from criticisms. At the height of the International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into the alleged killings under the former president, Marcos has repeatedly insisted that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the country. Although in the last years, the Marcos Cabinet and the rest of his government have flip-flopped on the issue of the ICC investigation.

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Senator Bato dela Rosa

Before becoming a lawmaker, Dela Rosa was Duterte’s first PNP chief and the first top brass who implemented the drug war. Under his watch, the killings were at their peak.

On June 25, lawmakers invited Dela Rosa, along with Duterte, for the next hearing. Also invited was Duterte’s nemesis, former senator Leila de Lima, who probed into the alleged killings under Duterte before she was detained for what she called trumped-up drug charges.

Dela Rosa immediately issued a statement after the invitation and said Senate President Chiz Escudero had advised him not to attend the House hearing. Escudero, however, explained that it was Dela Rosa who said he was not attending the said hearing.

“Senator Bato has expressed to me his position, at this time, that he is not inclined to attend. I told him that I support whatever decision he will arrive at regarding this matter, and will always be a vanguard and guard the rights, privileges and prerogatives of the Senate and members of the Senate,” Escudero said in a statement.

But even though it is likely that Dela Rosa will not appear before the probe, he still talked about the drug war during a “Kapihan sa Senado,” where he admitted that his former principal’s policy was abusive.

Hindi ko sinabi, I must say it clear, hindi ko sinabi na walang nangyayaring human rights violation during the war on drugs. Aminado tayo d’yan na mayroong mga kaso na talagang na-violate ‘yung right ng tao.  Kasi kung wala, eh dapat hindi nakakasuhan ‘yong mga pulis na gumawa ng kalokohan. So mayroon din, mayroon talaga. Mayroon at mayroon. Kaya nga dapat imbestigahan individually bawat kaso,” Dela Rosa said on June 27.

(I never said, I must say it clear, I never said that there were no human rights violations during the war on drugs. We acknowledge that there were cases where human rights were violated. Because if there were none, the police officers who committed alleged crimes should not have faced cases in the first place. So there were really abuses. That’s why each case should be investigated individually.)

When he was still the PNP chief, Dela Rosa said in 2018 that the PNP “never intended” the abuses in the drug war. He even said it would be impossible for the campaign to be “bloodless.”

Dela Rosa’s earlier claim was contrary to the finding of international human rights group Amnesty International, which said that the killings were “deliberate and systematic” in nature and appeared to be part of the “government-orchestrated attack against poor people.” 

Police Colonel Jovie Espenido

During the House panel hearing on June 26, Police Colonel Jovie Espenido also admitted that human rights violations were committed under Duterte’s administration. Espenido, who became prominent under Duterte for his participation in big-time drug war raids, was cornered by lawmakers to make a statement.

House committee on human rights and Manila 6th District Representative Benny Abante asked Espenido if there were really human rights violations during the term of the former president. The police officer replied that he is a law enforcer and he’s “not really [in a position]” to decide whether there were abuses or not.

However, Abante was persistent and told the cop that he was not being asked to make a decision, but rather to answer the query. Espenido replied with: “There must be.”

Espenido made himself nationally relevant for his anti-drug operation that led to the death of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and 14 others. He was also the local police chief of Albuera, Leyte when its mayor, Rolando Espinosa, was killed by cops during the service of a warrant in his detention cell. 

After the big-time operations, Duterte hailed Espenido and even told him he was “free to kill everybody.” Later, the drug war “poster boy” landed on the former president’s own anti-drug list. Inclusion in the list was used to justify deaths of drug suspects in police operations. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.