MANILA- The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo defended her claims on the alleged 'palit-ulo' scheme, saying she spoke about personal accounts of victims.
Robredo's spokesperson, Georgina Hernandez, said stories of people who have approached their office to ask for help regarding the government's anti-narcotics campaign served as basis for the vice president's claims on the alleged palit-ulo scheme.
"Several members of poor communities, who have felt voiceless and powerless in the face of the killings, have approached our Office to share their stories and ask for help regarding their experiences on the war on drugs. These are the stories that the Vice President spoke about in her video message to the United Nations," Hernandez said in a statement Thursday.
Robredo, in a recorded speech uploaded on YouTube by anti-drug network DRCNet Foundation, revealed a scheme wherein authorities would take a family member instead in case the original person on the drug list cannot be found.
"They told us of the 'palit-ulo scheme' which literally means exchange heads where the wife or husband or relative of a person in a so-called drug list will be taken if the person himself could not be found," Robredo explained.
The video will be played at "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," a side session organized by DRCNet Foundation for the 60th U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting.
Hernandez said the fear that rogue policemen are involved in the scheme have made people feel there was nowhere else to go.
"The fear that scalawag members of the police force are involved, as documented by human rights groups and as mentioned by the President himself, have made people feel there is nowhere else to go," she said.
Hernandez said they have submitted a letter to the Department of Interior and Local Government last Jan. 24 asking for information, particularly on investigations relating to drug killings but have yet to receive a response.
"We appeal to the administration to focus on what it said it will do: investigate the cases, clean the ranks of the police force, and hold perpetrators accountable," she said.
The Philippine National Police last Wednesday urged Robredo to cite specific cases of the scheme to prove her claims.
"Yung sinasabing palit-ulo na kung wala, hindi pumunta iyung drug suspect o drug personality ang kapalit eh yung kamag-anak, clearly hindi ito tama," said PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos.
Carlos said that the concerns should have been brought to their attention first rather than being made public.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo meanwhile belied Robredo's claims, saying the vice president has been receiving wrong information about the Duterte administration's war on drugs.
"It is unfortunate that the vice president has made statements vis-a-vis the so-called war on drugs has been the result of police operations and extrajudicial killings initiated allegedly by the state. This is absolutely groundless and has no basis in fact and in law," Panelo said.
Hernandez said the lack of updates on high profile cases of killings such as that of Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., and South Korean businessman Jee Ick-Joo have not helped in allaying public's fears.
"High ranking law enforcement officials have also issued public statements dismissing the concerns of victims' families," Hernandez said.
"How can we then expect poorer victims to have the courage to speak up and the confidence that the relevant authorities will address their plight?" she added.