MANILA - The Senate on Monday opened its investigation into the growing tally of drug suspects being killed in police operations and vigilante attacks.
Senator Leila de Lima, head of the committee on Justice and Human Rights which leads the probe, first stressed the need to ascertain that law enforcers strictly follow the rules of engagement in their anti-drug efforts.
"Hindi ko po sinasabing ang lahat ng nagaganap na pagpapatay sa mga operasyon ng mga pulis ay walang legal na batayan sa paggamit ng lethal force," said de Lima, who recently earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte.
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"Masyadong marami na ngayon ang napapatay sa mga engkwentro kumpara sa mga nakaraang panahon para hindi magduda kung nasusunod ba talaga ang rules of engagement," de Lima said.
(I'm not saying that killings during police operations did not have legal basis in connection to the use of lethal force. [But] the spike in deaths during police encounters triggers doubts on whether the rules of engagement are indeed being obeyed.)
The legislative inquiry, she said, must also look into into how alleged death squads could be masking their murders as part of the government's campaign against narcotics.
"May indikasyon na hindi lahat ng mga pagpaslang ay may kaugnayan sa kampanya ng laban sa droga ng goberyno. Mayroong mga nakikisakay at nakikisabay lang sa lehitimong operasyon ng kapulisan upang makatakas sa batas at pagtakpan ang kanilang partisipasyon sa kalakaran ng iligal na droga," de Lima said.
(There are indications that not all vigilante slays are linked to government's anti drug campaign. There are some people who use legitimate police operations to escape punishment and cover their participation in the drug trade.)
De Lima also cited "disturbing" figures from Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa showing that 665 drug suspects were killed in police operations and 899 were murdered by unknown killers, between July 1 and August 15.
The lawmaker insisted that the slain drug suspects do not just represent figures but actual human lives.
"Sa bawat nagtagpuang bangkay sa kalsada, may nawalan ng kapatid, magulang at asawa. May naulilang pamilya. May gumuhong kinabukasan at pag-asa," she said.
(For every corpse found in the street, there is someone who lost a sibling, parent and partner. There is an orphaned family. There is a ruined future and hope.)
"I strongly believe that extra-legal killings, whether perpetrated by the state or by non-state actors, must stop. Blatant disregard for human life must stop," she added.
But de Lima also stressed that the hearing does not aim to impede the war on drugs, but rather, strengthen it while ensuring that it remains within the bounds of law.
"Linawin ko lang po: Hindi layunin ng imbestigasyong ito na pigilin o pahinain ang kampanya laban sa droga ng kasalukuyang administrasyon," she said.
(I'll just clarify: This investigation does not aim to stop or weaken the anti-drug campaign of the current administration.)
"Nais pa nating palakasin ito, habang sinisigurong walang batas na nilalabag, walang karapatang niyuyurakan, at walang buhay na nilalapastangan," de Lima said.
(We would like to boost it, while ensuring that no laws are violated, no rights are trampled upon and no life is desecrated.)
Invited to Monday's hearing were 12 witnesses of drug-related killings, police officials, human rights advocates and members of the academe and non-government organizations.
Watch a live stream of the investigation here.