MANILA — The Department of Justice has completed an initial report in its review of the deaths of thousands of drug suspects under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday.
“The first partial report dated 29 Dec 2020 is done. It’s embodied in a confidential report to the President,” Guevarra told reporters in a text message.
But neither a copy of the report nor a summary of its contents has yet to be made public.
“The initial report dated 29 Dec 2020 has just been submitted to the Office of the President. Let’s give him time to pore over it,” Guevarra said.
The drug war review is a major commitment by the Philippines to the United Nations Human Rights Council, but is seen by many human rights organizations as the Philippine government’s way of evading a full-blown independent international probe into the drug war in the country that has killed more than 5,000 lives based on government figures, or more than 30,000, according to rights groups.
Originally scheduled to be released in November, the report’s release date was pushed back, with the DOJ citing movement restrictions under the coronavirus pandemic and the damage wrought by successive typhoons that hit the country late last year.
Guevarra earlier said it will resort to “sufficient random sampling” instead of going through each of the 5,000 deaths.
He did not specify any timeline for the release of the full report.
The Commission of Human Rights welcomed the development but expressed concern over what it says is lack of transparency and of its involvement in the review.
“We consider the government’s action as a step towards ensuring accountability and addressing impunity. However, we regret that the Commission on Human Rights was not involved in the review, contrary to the commitments and assurances made by the government during the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council," CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said in a statement.
"This is an unfulfilled promise to Filipinos and the entire community of nations,” she said.
Gomez-Dumpit said this was contrary to the Philippine government’s previous declaration that it will involve the CHR as an independnet monitoring body that would “play an important role in the high-level inter-agency panel.”
She also noted the government’s failure to comply with its commitment for the panel to “engage with affected families and provide them with legal options and assistance in the criminal prosecution of law enforcers who have overstepped legal bounds in their operations.”
“We strongly urge the Government to publicize the findings as transparency is key to ensure the credibility of the said report," she said.
"This will allow victims and their families to access crucial information in the process of obtaining justice. We reiterate our openness and willingness to engage with the government in this process."
Guevarra said they will eventually seek the CHR’s help.
“We intend to engage with the CHR in this endeavor. As I said, the initial report is only a partial one. Our efforts have been severely hampered by current restrictions on mobility and physical access to records. Much collaborative work remains to be done,” he said.
HOLDING PH GOVERNMENT TO ACCOUNT
This is not the first time the CHR held the Philippine government to account for its promises to the UN Human Rights Council.
Shortly after a resolution was passed in October providing technical cooperation and capacity-building for promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, Gomez-Dumpit accused the government of possible misrepresentations before the UN body.
In its October resolution, the UNHRC cited the Philippine government’s cooperation with the United Nations country team as well as its engagement with the UN resident coordinator under a multi-year United Nations joint program on human rights.
It also recognized the DOJ’s and CHR’s supposed data-sharing agreement to strengthen the capacity to investigate and prosecute human rights violations, the launch of a national justice information system, expediting resolution of cases under pretrial detention, and the strengthening of the Justice Sector Coordinating Council where local justice sector agencies come together to address common concerns.
But Gomez-Dumpit pointed out, the data-sharing agreement referred to in the resolution was only recently-signed and covers only political killings, not human rights violations as it was made to appear.
She also questioned the lack of clarity as to the CHR’s role in the inter-agency panel reviewing the conduct of the drug war in the country.
Last December, rights groups criticized a DOJ-led human rights summit held in partnership with the United Nations and the UNHRC as a “token” measure, especially since victims and human rights defenders were supposedly not invited to participate.
Dissatisfaction with the UNHRC’s October resolution has also prompted an international coalition of lawyers, faith-based and labor groups to launch their independent probe into the drug war in the country.