PH drug war deaths a ‘matter of most serious concern,’ says UN rights chief

Michael Joe Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 25 2019 01:29 PM | Updated as of Jun 25 2019 01:45 PM

Human rights advocates light candles in protest of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs in Quezon City, December 1, 2017, ahead of Human Rights Day. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File


PNP asserts anti-drug ops carried out 'judiciously'

MANILA — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said deaths in the Philippines' drug war is “a matter of most serious concern” even as it acknowledged the “real numbers” as reported by government officials.

In the opening of the council’s 41st session on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in her remarks that they are closely following the human rights situation in the Philippines due to the “extraordinarily high number of deaths” in the government’s crackdown on illegal drugs that started when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in July 2016.

“The extraordinarily high number of deaths – and persistent reports of extrajudicial killings – in the context of campaigns against drug use continue. Even the officially confirmed number of 5,425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country,” she said.

The UN rights chief in March said that up to 27,000 people may have been killed in the widely-condemned anti-drug campaign, with no one brought to justice except in one high-profile case.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported on June 18 that the total number drug personalities killed in police anti-drug operations operations from July 2016 to May this year was at 6,600.

The PNP, meanwhile, welcomed the UN rights body's "acknowledgement of the real numbers in the anti-illegal drugs campaign.”
 
“As we have explained, the varying numbers reported to UNHCHR by the special rapporteurs and its other sources were not consistent with truth. Their bloated figures don’t add up and cannot support any further need of the UN body to see the true and accurate picture of the Philippines’ lonely crusade against the global problem of illegal drugs,” PNP spokesperson Col. Bernard Banac said in a statement.

Police have consistently denied involvement in extra-judicial killings, asserting that their operations have been “judiciously conducted within the ambit of regular police procedures.”

The PNP has repeatedly said those slain in drug operations had violently resisted arrest.

Bachelet called for investigation on the deaths to prove their claim.

“There should also be comprehensive and transparent information from the authorities on the circumstances around the deaths, and investigations related to allegations of violations. These could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities,” she said.

Bachelet also noted that there have been cases of intimidation against people who oppose the government’s policies.

“Human rights defenders, including activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples; journalists; lawyers; members of the Catholic clergy; and others who have spoken out – notably the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples – have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior Government officials. This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression,” she said.

NOT A MATTER OF NUMBER

Rights group Karapatan said the PNP’s statement shows a “very low regard for human life” for supposedly downplaying the number of deaths, even if it is far fewer compared to what rights advocates report.

“I don’t know if the Philippine National Police are in their right minds. Whether that’s 5,000 or 30,000, there must be an independent and thorough investigation on the issue of extrajudicial killings,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, told ABS-CBN News.

She said the UN’s acknowledgement of the government’s “real numbers” is no feat, saying any death is one too many.

“Even if the numbers are even 5, no? What we are saying, whether it’s 1 or 1,000 or 100,000, the point is the government is not doing anything about it and it’s continuing its deadly campaign,”she said.

Banac, on the PNP’s part, insisted that they respect human rights and their operations have been above board, based on lawful orders.

“Human rights is perfectly in place, exercised and protected in the Philippines in accordance with the constitution. Respect for human rights is deeply embedded in all police systems and procedures as a matter of organizational policy,” he said.

“If at all any irregularity had been found, these were immediately investigated and corrected with punitive action against the errant police personnel.”

The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), meanwhile, "wholeheartedly" welcomed Bachelet's statement, citing how its "tenor and tone apparently reflect the desired credibility, objectivity, transparency and fairness on the matter."

"It does not only underscore the urgency and imperative of squarely and decisively addressing the issue and concerns about these horrendous extrajudicial killings but also other brazen human rights violations," NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.
 
"Many of these transgressions are disguised or legitimized by color of legality and official sanction including those against lawyers under attack," he added.