Philippines to review more drug cases, invites special rapporteurs: justice dept

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 01 2022 01:22 PM | Updated as of Mar 01 2022 07:11 PM

Rise Up, an organization composed of families who say their loved ones were victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, say their prayers at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters in Quezon City on October 29, 2021. The group continued their call for a halt to the killings as they remember their departed in the coming Undas. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Rise Up, an organization composed of families who say their loved ones were victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, say their prayers at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters in Quezon City on October 29, 2021. The group continued their call for a halt to the killings as they remember their departed in the coming Undas. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Malacañang says justice 'is working' in PH 

MANILA (UPDATE)— The Philippine government will review hundreds more cases in connection with its anti-drug war and will invite special rapporteurs to the country on non-drug-related issues, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday night.

In his speech before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Guevarra said the drug war review panel, headed by the Department of Justice, “is now prepared to endorse” to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 250 cases involving deaths from the government’s anti-illegal drug war campaign in the Central Luzon area.

These deaths took place from July 1, 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte took office, and June 30, 2020, according to outgoing DOJ spokesperson Usec. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar.

The review panel earlier forwarded 52 cases from the records of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to the NBI for case building and so far, 4 cases have been filed in court.

“The NBI is currently preparing five more complaints to initiate the prosecution process against erring law enforcement operatives,” Guevarra said.

It was in the same body in June 2020 that Guevarra disclosed that the Philippine government has supposedly started reviewing its highly-controversial drug war campaign, just as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was about to release a damning report on the killings in the country.

Two years on, the panel has supposedly finished 2 sets of drug war review but the full reports have not been released to the public yet.

It released instead a table of 52 cases in October last year, detailing evidence of violations of police protocols.

Rights groups have scored Guevarra’s promise of accountability for erring law enforcers as instrumental in pushing the UNHRC to pass a resolution in October 2020 providing for technical assistance to the Philippine government for the promotion and protection of human rights instead of launching a full-blown independent probe on the killings.

Criticisms, in particular, centered on whether the DOJ’s probe will include the President, who has been very vocal about the drug war and has threatened death multiple times for those who engage in drugs.

But Guevarra has been non-committal about probing the President.

In a televised briefing, Malacañang said the developments mean that there is a "mechanism for accountability" in the country, which are "working."

Karlo Nograles, Duterte's acting spokesperson and Cabinet secretary, said the administration would not condone "any abuses made by any official or any worker in government." 

"If may pang-aabuso, we will prosecute and deal with these abuses and those who were abusing their authority with the fullest extent of the law," he said. 

"The mechanisms are working in the country that afford and ensure that justice is served," he added. 

More than 6,000 drug suspects have been killed in drug operations, according to official figures, although human rights groups estimate the number to be at more than 30,000.

Watch more on iWantTFC

PROBE ON ACTIVISTS’ KILLINGS

In the same speech, Guevarra shared the developments in the probe of the AO 35 Task Force on extrajudicial killings involving activists.

“In the past year alone, this inter-agency committee created fifteen (15) Special Investigation Teams that looked into extra-legal killings and other incidents involving gross violations of human rights and of humanitarian law,” he said.

“The committee has recently completed its investigation and will shortly initiate the process to prosecute a number of law enforcement officers involved in the service of judicial warrants which resulted in the death of known activists in Southern Luzon,” he added.

Preliminary investigation on at least 2 cases involving deaths from Bloody Sunday has started at the prosecutor level.

These are the deaths of labor leader Emmanuel Asuncion in Cavite and the couple Ariel Evangelista and Ana Mariz Lemita-Evangelista in Nasugbu, Batangas. 

Watch more on iWantTFC


INVITATION TO SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS

Guevarra also announced during his speech before the UNHRC that the Philippine government has invited 2 special rapporteurs to the country.

“We look forward to working with the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children late this year, and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in 2023,” he said, without elaborating why these special rapporteurs were invited and not the special rapporteur on extra-legal killings. 

Agnes Callamard, the former special rapporteur on extra-legal killings had a rocky relationship with Philippine authorities, particularly President Duterte himself.

The Philippines, in 2016, cancelled her visit to the country, insisting that she should comply with certain conditions. 

Duterte had previously challenged her to a public debate.

The President went as far as cursing and hurling threats against Callamard, prompting the United Nations OHCHR to issue a statement.

Malacanang has also called UN human rights experts as “biased individuals” following a statement urging the government to stop drug war killings.

Callamard continued expressing her assessment of the human rights situation in the country before she moved on to a new role as secretary general of London-based rights group Amnesty International.

Guevarra said he “can’t speculate on the reasons why the government was not agreeable to a visit by Ms Callamard years ago.”

“One thing sure, though, is that at present we have a formal legal framework, the Phil-UN joint program on technical cooperation for the protection and promotion of human rights, within which such visits of special rapporteurs could be carefully planned and implemented without any pre-existing bias,” he said.