HRW: Duterte Year 1 a 'human rights calamity'

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 28 2017 09:14 AM | Updated as of Jun 28 2017 03:53 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while delivering a speech during his visit at the Iligan City National School of Fisheries evacuation center in Iligan City, June 20, 2017. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

MANILA - (UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte triggered a "human rights calamity" as he waged a brutal crackdown on illicit drugs during his first year in power, an international human rights group alleged Wednesday.

"Duterte has unleashed a human rights calamity on the Philippines in his first year in office," the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.

"The government’s murderous 'war on drugs,' drug-related overcrowding of jails, and the harassment and prosecution of drug war critics has caused a steep decline in respect for basic rights since Duterte's inauguration on June 30, 2016."

Official data from the Philippine National Police pegged the total number of homicide cases at 9,432 from July 2016 to March 2017.

Of this number, 1,847 deaths were said to be drug-related, while 1,894 were not. The remaining 5,691 cases, approximately 60 percent of the total figure, were still under investigation.

Duterte's anti-narcotics drive has also resulted in a 26.45 percent drop in the estimated total drug market and 28.57 percent reduction in index crime, according to PNP data.

A relative of a victim cries behind the police line at the site of a drug-related shooting by unidentified men riding on motorcycles at Navotas City, June 19, 2017. Dondi Tawatao, Reuters

HRW said it found no distinction between suspects killed while resisting arrest and killings by "unknown gunmen" or "vigilantes."

"In several such cases, the police dismissed allegations of involvement when only hours before the suspects had been in police custody. Such cases call into question government assertions that the majority of killings were carried out by vigilantes or rival drug gangs," the group alleged.

HRW said the Duterte administration has rejected all domestic and international calls for accountability for the killings and instead has denied any government responsibility.

"President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights, but has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW.

"Duterte has supported and incited 'drug war' killings while retaliating against those fearless enough to challenge his assault on human rights."

HRW TRYING TO 'EARN THEIR WAY'?

Senator Richard Gordon meanwhile tagged HRW as an advocacy group trying to earn its way. He challenged the rights monitor to present evidence backing its allegations.

"This is an advocacy group that has to sustain its momentum so that resources can be provided to them, and I’m not accusing them of taking advantage, they just have to earn their pay, earn their way," he told ANC's Headstart.

Gordon, chair of the Senate justice and human rights committee, led a legislative inquiry last year which concluded there was no sufficient evidence to prove that the government is sponsoring summary killings.

The national police and Duterte's spokespersons have also said that alleged drug-related killings were not state-sanctioned and that policemen were acting within the law.

INHUMANE JAILS

In the report, HRW said the war on drugs also worsened the already dire conditions of jail facilities, including inadequate food and unsanitary conditions.

Government data indicates that the country's jail facilities have a maximum capacity of 20,399 but currently hold nearly 132,000 detainees after the arrest of tens of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers, HRW said.

Inmates sleep on the ground of an open basketball court inside the Quezon City jail at night in Manila in this picture taken on July 19, 2016. There are 3,800 inmates at the jail, which was built six decades ago to house 800. Noel Celis, AFP

The drug campaign, HRW said, also boosted the number of "secret jails" in which police allegedly detain drug suspects and demand bribes in exchange for release.

For its part, the Philippine National Police has said an inventory of police detention facilities in the country has not yielded any secret jail cell like the one discovered in Manila last April.

The administration also promised to build new jails to address severe congestion made by the drug war.

ABUSE OF CRITICS

HRW also accused the Duterte administration of subjecting critics of the drug war to "harassment, intimidation, and even arrest."

The group alleged that Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of the campaign, was detained last February over "politically motivated" drug charges.

HRW said Duterte's online supporters have also threatened activists, journalists, international officials and fellow citizens critical ofthe drug war.

"During his first year in office, President Duterte and his government have demonstrated a fundamental unwillingness to respect rights or provide justice for people whose rights have been violated," Kine said.

"A UN-led international investigation is desperately needed to help stop the slaughter and press for accountability for Duterte's human rights catastrophe."

Malacañang has denied that the drug cases against de Lima were politically motivated, insisting that these were “criminal in nature.”