MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday hit back at international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) for calling the first year of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte a "human rights calamity."
Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag told reporters that HRW seemed to have overlooked the gains achieved under Duterte’s presidency, especially in the war on drugs.
"We don’t feel good about the comments of the Human Rights Watch… We have to realize that the president stood and won on a platform of genuine change," Banaag said told reporters in a news conference.
"Human Rights Watch should not brush aside all the programs especially on the enforcement side [of the war on drugs].”
The New York-based group said Duterte’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."
Banaag, however, said government has made “so much sacrifice” after carrying out about 62,000 anti-illegal drug operations
“We have around 1.3 million drug surrenderers. The government is doing something about this,” she said.
“The government is not sitting down watching lives being wasted just this way. The president had only wanted so much for his countrymen.”
A total of 3,151 drug personalities have been killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to June 13, 2016, according to the government.
Official data from the Philippine National Police have also 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.
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 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." – with a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News