Deadlier than Iraq: US NGO calls PH ‘war zone in disguise’

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2019 04:31 PM

Activists take part in a rally after 91 people were shot dead in anti-drug operations in Quezon City, August 18, 2017. Dondi Tawatao, Reuters/File

Palace slams report's 'ignorance, bias'

MANILA - A United States-based non-government organization has labeled the Philippines a “war zone in disguise,” as it ranked the country as among the deadliest for civilians.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) said the Philippines, along with conflict-torn Syria, Nigeria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, were the world's deadliest places for civilians last year.

“The Philippines, for example, while not facing a conventional war on the scale of Afghanistan or Syria, is one of the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian," ACLED said in its 48-page annual report.

It attributed the deaths to the government’s war on drugs, a campaign that has earned global condemnation but has continued to be praised by President Rodrigo Duterte’s supporters at home.

The administration has repeatedly denied claims that more than 10,000 people have been killed in the war on drugs, including deaths in summary killings.

Authorities have said those slain in legitimate police operations had put up violent resistance, and that officers had shot them in self-defense.

"President Duterte’s War on Drugs, while past its initial, deadly climax, continues unchecked as the world stands by,” ACLED said.

“More civilians were killed in the Philippines in 2018 than in Iraq, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo -- highlighting the lethality of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “War on Drugs”-cum-state terror campaign," the report read.

It said throughout last year, the country had "similar levels of civilian fatalities stemming from direct civilian targeting as Afghanistan,” where extremism persists.

ACLED, meanwhile, noted that there was a decrease of 396 or 21 percent of events of “organized political violence” from 2017, citing how the bloody drug war had been tempered by criticism.

“Philippine President Duterte’s War on Drugs, which began in earnest in 2016, was rife with state-sponsored killings and corruption. The most recent phase of the war, begun in late 2017, has seen fewer events and fatalities than earlier phases, in part due to critical attention focused on the state’s tactics,” the group noted.

“The number of organized violence events… fell in Southeast Asia, due in part to a more restrained take on the drug war in the Philippines.”

ACLED said at 7,225, Syria had the highest number of reported fatalities from events targeting civilians, followed by Nigeria with 2,988, Yemen with 2,330, Afghanistan with 1,499, and the Philippines with 1,089.

It said that while civilian targeting in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen occurred under ongoing conflict in these areas, deaths in Nigeria and the Philippines happened outside "conventional" war: the former being attributed to Fulani militias which target non-Muslim populations, and the latter to the state's drug war.

ACLED is a disaggregated conflict collection, analysis and crisis mapping project. It collects the dates, actors, types of violence, locations, and fatalities of all reported political violence and protest events across Africa, South Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America.

 Malacañang reacts

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo slammed ACLED’s report, saying it “is remarkable in ignorance and bias.”

“Not having presented any proof that it has conducted factual investigation in the country as to the conditions obtaining, it is reasonable to believe that its conclusions [are] based on allegations made by groups that are hopelessly and blindly critical of the Duterte administration,” Panelo said in a statement.

“These include the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as partisan media outfits like Rappler, Philippine Daily Inquirer, New York Times and Reuters, among others. In fact, an earlier ACLED report, ‘Duterte’s War: Drug-Related Violence,’ plays heavily on the allegations of these groups.”

Panelo said to describe the war on drugs as a state terror campaign targeting innocent civilians “is pure hogwash.”

“So is putting the Philippines in its list of the most dangerous places for civilians in 2018. The report stating that there is an alleged prevalence of state repression tagging the Philippines as a country where civilians are most at risk in 2018 is an infinitely fallacious finding,” Panelo said.

He maintained that the war on drugs is governed by strict police protocol that subject the police officers to accountability “given the President’s zero tolerance for errant law enforcers.”

“Make no mistake about it, the Philippines is a dangerous country to drug manufacturers, dealers, addicts, criminals, terrorists, scoundrels, corrupt and abusive persons in authority,” he said.

Panelo asserted that the Duterte administration does not tolerate impunity, and that police tagged in abuse are brought to justice. He cited the case of officers convicted of murder for the killing of teen Kian delos Santos in a questionable anti-drug operation in August 2017.

“Impunity has no place under the current administration as exemplified by the conviction of Caloocan City policemen involved in the killing of a minor, Kian de los Santos, with no less than the President denouncing the killers and ordering them placed behind bars,” Panelo said.

“To ACLED we say, as we have repeatedly conveyed to other foreign human rights organizations, we do not need lectures from inexpert foreign groups on how to run a nation.”