MANILA — A United Nations (UN) special rapporteur challenged on Friday the Philippine inter-agency panel reviewing the country’s drug war to include even President Rodrigo Duterte in the scope of its probe in a bid to seek accountability over supposedly thousands of deaths made under the administration’s flagship domestic campaign.
During an online forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Agnes Callamard, a UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said that the drug war review panel should “not just focus on those that pulled the trigger but also on those that emboldened those that pulled the trigger.”
“Is the review panel prepared to tackle incitement? Is the review panel prepared to include those who have repeatedly said ‘I have your back’ to the killers in uniform, the serial killers in uniform. The review panel must be prepared to integrate into its review the systems, the leadership at the highest level that allowed for that policy,” Callamard explained.
“There should be no limit who should be included in that review from the President to the police commissioners and below and in between — all of them — if they have said, if they are incited, if they are protected, if they have done any of those things, they must be included in the benchmarking of how the Philippines prepared to respond to those human rights violations,” she added.
Duterte had often publicly defended police officers implicated in the killings of drug suspects, and repeatedly promised protection.
The drug war review is a major commitment by the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), 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 allegedly killed more than 5,000 based on government figures, but disputed by human rights groups to more than 30,000.
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
‘PREPARED TO LOOK AT ALL ISSUES’
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced at the 44th session of the UNHRC in June last year that an inter-agency panel has been looking into the deaths of 5,655 suspects in drug operations, which also reevaluated the investigations and actions taken by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
Reacting to Callamard’s statements, the justice chief said the panel is prepared to look at “all relevant issues.”
“The question (who) assumes a fact (killings being encouraged) that is yet to be clearly established in each case. Nevertheless, the review panel will consider all relevant issues in the pursuit of its objective of exacting accountability,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
He explained the focus of the probe would be on what actually happened during the encounters but may include those that may arise in the course of the investigation.
Asked if investigators would specifically ask if there was incitement, he said: “Whenever appropriate or necessary, the question may be asked. We’ll leave the discretion to the person actually conducting the investigation. Circumstances may differ from person to person.”
The justice chief announced earlier this month that the panel has finished its first partial report and has already submitted it to the President. The said panel, however, has yet to publicize the results.
He also pointed out that the panel’s member-agencies already agreed earlier in the day to disclose the findings but the PNP asked to be given a copy of the initial report so it could comment on the results.
“We will furnish the PNP a copy next week. We will give them a few days to go over it. The report will not be edited as it has already been submitted to the President much earlier,” he said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), meanwhile, said it was left out of the drug war review.
Originally scheduled to be released in November, the report’s release date was pushed back after the DOJ cited movement restrictions due to the pandemic and the damage wrought by successive typhoons that lashed the country and inundated the capital region in November last year.
He has yet to specify any timeline for the release of the full report.
The official had said that the panel would resort to “sufficient random sampling” instead of going through each of the 5,000 deaths.
BENCHMARK, TIMEFRAME OF THE REPORT SOUGHT
Callamard said on Friday that presenting a timeline during the next UNHRC session in Geneva, which could happen in about 2 weeks, would be a good move on the part of the Philippines, along with clear benchmarks to guide the drug war review.
“Present your benchmark, present your timeframe and then let’s have a discussion,” she said.
These benchmarks should include filing of criminal cases in court against those found responsible for the killings.
“It should be [a] judicial response, it’s got to be a proper acknowledgment of the wrong being done. That’s the first,” she said, rejecting the government officials’ declarations that around 5,000 cops have been dismissed from service in the past 4 years and close to 17,000 cops have been punished due to alleged rights violations.
“[T]he fact that 5,000 policemen or 6,000 have been dismissed in relation criminal activities or human rights violation. That to me is not a benchmark. It’s the opposite of an accountability,” she pointed out.
“Those 6,000 persons that have been dismissed, their cases need to be reviewed by the proper court of law. That’s an important and clear benchmark. It is not an internal, administrative process,” she said.
The UN rapporteur also stressed the importance of including the families of victims in the search for accountability.
“What happened to the family of the victims? How are they being treated? How are they being acknowledged? What kind of redress are they getting?” she asked.
“How many of them are getting access to the review panel itself, how many of them are getting access to redress, access to reparation and so on and so forth. That, too, should be a major outcome of that review panel,” she added.
It was also not immediately clear what role families of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings will play in the review.
Various human rights groups have expressed doubt on the sincerity of the Philippine government, especially with the absence of human rights victims or their families and civil society groups at the human rights summit organized by the Justice department in partnership with the UN in December last year.
Guevarra insisted the government is “exerting serious and genuine efforts to address human rights concerns in the country, not only because we have made commitments before the international community but also because we believe that this is the right thing to do.”
For Callamard, the best way to show this commitment is by adopting a clear process towards accountability.
“The Justice sector of the Philippines should play a strong role, should demonstrate its commitment to the Constitution, its commitment to the rule of law by holding those responsible for violation to account,” she said.