MANILA — The Philippine National Police (PNP) will open a portion of its drug war records to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for review, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday.
Guevarra described the move as a “very significant milestone” because it “did not happen in previous years.”
“The PNP will allow the DOJ access to records of 61 cases (involving hundreds of PNP personnel nationwide) where the PNP Internal Affairs Service had found administrative/criminal liability on the part of law enforcement agents,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
These cases, according to Guevarra, were reviewed and evaluated by the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) using its own records and personnel.
The PNP IAS was envisioned to be an independent and autonomous unit within the PNP dedicated to investigating erring policemen.
The purpose of the review, Guevarra said, is for the DOJ to determine which administrative cases could lead to possible criminal investigation.
The 61 cases constitute less than 1 percent of the more than 7,000 cases of deaths during police drug operations, based on official government figures. Human rights groups claim a much higher count.
The PNP’s decision was prompted by a meeting between Guevarra and newly-installed PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar last Friday, May 21, during which the two officials discussed “active collaboration” in reviewing illegal drug operations where deaths occurred and in investigating alleged extrajudicial killings and related cases.
“General Eleazar expressed his sincere intention to cooperate with the DOJ in order to remove or discipline wrongdoers among the ranks of the police and thereby uplift the image of the PNP as protectors of the people. The DOJ and the PNP will execute a formal memorandum to embody this agreement,” Guevarra said.
The justice chief however could not say which period is covered by the 61 cases.
“We will check on the period actually covered. We understand that the PNP IAS had investigated thousands of drug-related deaths but found 61 cases/incidents where clear liability was established. We will know all these once we see the actual records,” he said.
“What is significant right now is that the DOJ has been given free access, something that did not happen in previous years, thereby making our review rather difficult. The DOJ, however, will continue to examine case records available from its regional prosecution offices other than those covered in its initial report,” he explained.
Guevarra said the 61 cases investigated by IAS are outside the initial review the DOJ conducted last year, from which a partial report was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Five months on, that report has not yet been released to the public.
The drug war review is a major commitment by the Philippines to the United Nations Human Rights Council, with no less than Guevarra announcing it in front of world leaders.
But various human rights groups view it as the Philippine government’s way of evading a full-blown independent international probe into the controversial drug war in the country.
The PNP’s move did not escape criticism from rights groups either.
Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch senior Philippines researcher, said in a statement the PNP’s move smacks of “tokenism.”
“Secretary Guevarra would like the public to believe that things are improving. But a mere 61 cases where, in his words, clear liability was established – that is a woefully paltry number considering that more than 7,000 killings by the police have been officially recorded,” he said.
“Instead of spinning this as moving the needle for accountability, he should convince his president to crack the whip on the police to force it to be more forthcoming and to be more serious about accountability. By Guevarra’s own admission now and in previous statements, there is basis to hold the PNP accountable,” he added.
Guevarra admitted before the UNHRC in February that weapons in “nanlaban” cases or police operations which led to deaths of alleged drug suspects were not examined and that law enforcement agents failed to follow standard protocols.
His statement came amid mounting international pressure for an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the country, following a damning report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in June last year detailing widespread rights violations and impunity.
But the UN Human Rights Council in October 2020 opted to pass a resolution providing technical cooperation and capacity-building for promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, to the dismay of rights groups who lobbied for an independent international probe.
For Conde, the review of the 61 cases is not enough.
“Even granting that the 61 cases can be considered as ‘Progress,’ the slow pace of the DOJ review and the evident unwillingness of the PNP to fully cooperate with the DOJ only underscore the tokenism that is at play ever since Guevarra made his promise to the UN Human Rights Council,” he said.
“There’s no urgency at all in the government’s response, even as the ‘drug war’ killings continue to occur on a regular basis. The council should now see what’s happening for what it is: an effort to mislead the international community about the horrific rights situation in the Philippines,” he added.