CHR: Gov't failed to protect rights in drug war, encouraged culture of impunity

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 19 2022 07:26 PM

Duterte leaves 'safe, secure' Philippines: Palace 

Relatives of drug war victims ABS-CBN News
Relatives of drug war victims receive the cremated remains of their loved ones during a church ceremony in Quezon City on March 28, 2022, as part of Project Arise. Most of the victim's leased gravesites neared its expiry and the cremation was given for free. The project is in line with the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation's Program Paghilom in assisting the families of extrajudicial killing victims in healing and rebuilding their lives. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's administration failed to protect the rights of the victims of his anti-narcotics crackdown and encouraged a "culture of impunity," the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.

In a 48-page report released this week and completed in April, some 2 months before Duterte steps down, the CHR found that police showed "intent to kill" and used "excessive force" in drug operations.

The CHR report analyzed 882 case dockets involving 1,139 victims, 920 of whom were killed.

Though law enforcers alleged the victims showed aggression or resisted arrest, the commission noted there were only 31 incidents where operatives sustained injuries. In 133 incidents, the CHR said witness accounts "state discrepancies and inconsistencies in the official police narratives."

"The use of excessive and disproportionate force is also evident in 329 incidents where a lone victim was killed in drug operations participated by a minimum of three well-trained and highly skilled police operatives, armed with highly reliable weapons," the report said.

"Out of the 234 victims with records on sustained gunshot wounds, 201 (86%) were shot in the head and/or torso — further manifesting the intent to kill by police operatives. Verily, the victims’ deaths were inevitable results of the police operations," it continued.

The CHR said it lacked access to police documents in 295 of the drug killings due to lack of response, outright denials, or pending clearance from higher offices.

It added that internal investigations on operations that led to deaths were "inaccessible and non-transparent." Precinct-level probes were conducted by members of the same station or unit, and seldom questioned the use of force and self-defense narrative, said the CHR.

“Overall, the Commission finds that the government has failed in its obligation to respect and protect the human rights of every citizen, in particular, victims of drug-related killings,” the commission said.

“It has also encouraged a culture of impunity that shields perpetrators from being held to account.”

The CHR said it also analyzed 246 killings by unidentified perpetrators. The victims were mostly civilians in the drug lists, those have surrendered to the police, are identified drug peddlers, or in some cases, known assets.

Most were found in uninhabited locations with gunshot wounds in the head or torso. The heads of some victims were wrapped in packing tape, with their hands or feet bound together, said the CHR.

"These observations indicate the clear message of the perpetrators that users and sellers of illegal drugs do not deserve to live, possible repetitions of attacks would happen, and a climate of criminality throughout the country would continue," the report noted.

In these cases, the police identified and filed charges in only 22 incidents, the CHR said. It said the most common reason cited by the police is the lack of witnesses—despite the PNP’s vast network of assets and intelligence and improvements in its manpower and equipment.

While the CHR said it supports campaigns against narcotics, "Such measures must be coupled with a strong drive to promote due process, equal protection, full accountability, and the rule of law, thus, fulfilling its fundamental duty to uphold the rights and dignity of all," it said.

'REHASHED' ISSUES

Acting Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar said the report presents a "rehash of old issues... that have already been responded to."

"In contrast to what a handful of critiques would want the international community to hear and read about our country, the Duterte Administration leaves a legacy of a safe and secure Philippines," he said in a statement.

"Foreigners who come to the country as tourists are seeing how safe our streets and communities are, affirming the more than half in the drop in crime rate since President Rodrigo Roa Duterte took office in 2016, and validated by his high satisfaction, performance, approval and trust ratings at the end of his presidency," he added.

The official asked the CHR to "coordinate with the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat so that its recommendations may be discussed with all the government offices it has put to task."

In March, Amnesty International also flagged the "lack of accountability" and "unlawful killings" under the Duterte administration. Malacañang at that time also called the international watchdog's report "a mere false rehash."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in September last year approved a full inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity in Duterte's drug war. The ICC suspended the probe some 2 months later following a request by the Philippines, which cited its own investigations.

Last week, Duterte remained unapologetic of the drug crackdown, which he urged his successor to continue with "stronger pressure."

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