U.S. Congress should urge Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to stop extra-judicial killings in the Philippines amid his administration's war on drugs, a human rights activist told American lawmakers Thursday.
In a hearing by the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs' human rights body, iDefend spokesperson Ellecer Carlos urged U.S. lawmakers to “make a clear statement again calling on President Duterte to stop the killings, [inciting] violence, [and] stop dehumanizing drug dependents.”
“[Stop] threatening human rights defenders, enable the Philippine National Police (PNP) to return to the rule of law and respect for due process, and undertake affirmative action to resolve the vigilante killings,” said Carlos.
Phelim Kine, deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, echoed Carlos, saying “foreign pressure works and that’s something the United States can bring to bear in spades.”
Kine also expressed support for a U.S. Senate bill that proposes to restrict firearms aid to the Philippines due to the alleged human rights abuses.
Amnesty International senior crisis advisor Matthew Wells said in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing that Washington should help ensure Philippine authorities “reorient their drug policies on a model based on protection of health and human rights rathan than a punitive approach…to kill the problem away.”
“As one of the oldest and most important allies of the Philippines, the U.S. has a unique position of influence," he said, adding that U.S. Congress can help ensure reform in the PNP and "[end] impunity of police officers who commit or oversee unlawful killings.”
All three recommended a public health-centered approach to resolve the drug problem in the Philippines.
U.S. lawmaker James McGovern (D-MA) opened the hearing and said the Philippines’ war on drugs is “not necessary.”
“What is going in the Philippines is not necessary. No other country comes to mind where people are assassinated in the streets in the name of drugs,” said McGovern, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
McGovern added that he does not support Duterte's planned visit to the White House in October.
"President Duterte does not seem to have high regard for human rights. I certainly believe, very strongly, that a man of a human rights records like Duterte should not invited to the White House," he said.
The Philippines is the largest recipient of United States assistance in East Asia, according to Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL).
“Police have killed alleged 7,000 drug users without bringing charges and without trial. It’s paramount that human rights violations are not an unintended consequence of the war on drugs,” said Hultgren, co-chair of the commission.
The Duterte administration did not send a delegation to the hearing but has sent a letter from the Philippine Embassy in Washington, and Philippine Senate Bill 1313 which is a public health-based approach to resolve drug dependence.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, sent the Philippine National Police's (PNP) data on the war on drugs entitled "The Real Numbers".
'PNP VALUES LIFE'
The head of the PNP's human rights office earlier said the organization does not condone human rights violations and that it values the life of suspects.
Chief Supt. Dennis Siervo, director of the PNP's Human Rights Affairs Office said in a news conference that deaths happen in the war on drugs because suspects violently resist arrest.
"There is an armed confrontation... These drug personalities were armed and they were shooting at our personnel. Our personnel had to fight back," he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in a presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland in May, said the death toll in the government's war on drugs is exaggerated by "fake news."
"Numbers were presented in a way which basically appeared that [Duterte] was acting with impunity,” said the former senator, who has several times criticized the media for its reporting on deaths in the drug war.
“The drug lords were operating with impunity and not the government. The government tried to strengthen the rule of law. The problem is we were slowly turning into a narco-state, wherein the drug pushers were already infiltrating the political system,” he said.
Cayetano, the President's defeated running mate in the May 2016 elections, did not deny that there were extra-judicial killings in the Philippines, but said they were not state-sponsored.
“There are human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, but they are not state-sponsored and we are trying our best to address [them],” he said.
PDEA: DRUG WAR SUCCESSFUL
Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA) chief Isidro Lapeña has also claimed success in the first year of the war on drugs. He said a total of 63,926 anti-drug operations were conducted, netting 86,933 drug personalities and 1.3 million surrenderers in the first year of the Duterte administration.
The PDEA said there has been a 26% reduction in the Philippines' total drug market. A total of 2,429 kilos of shabu with a street value of P12 billion were seized from July 1 to June 13, 2017.
Latest Philippine National Police (PNP) data show that a total of 3,200 drug personalities were killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to June 20, 2017, or 9 killed daily in presumed-legitimate anti-drug operations in the first year of the Duterte administration.
DELA ROSA: PEOPLE FEEL SAFER ON THE STREETS
PNP chief Ronald Dela Rosa said the war on drugs has improved peace and order. According to the PNP, the number of index crimes (e.g. murder, homicide, physical injury, rape, robbery, theft) fell from from 134,958 crimes in July 2015-March 2016 to 96,398 in July 2016 to March 2017 or a 28% decrease in index crimes.
Dela Rosa also said people now feel safer on the streets. The public is also satisfied with the administration in terms of fighting crime and gave it a +41 (equivalent to good) net satisfaction rating, based on a March 2017 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
However, human rights advocates said the anti-crime campaign has also resulted in an increase in extra-judicial killings and human rights violations.
Based on PNP data, the number of murder cases increased by 35%, from 6,964 cases in July 2015 to March 2016 to 9,402 cases from July 2016 to March 2017.
The PNP has determined that out of the 12,833 homicide cases from July 1, 2016 to June 16, 2017, 2,098 deaths were drug-related and 2,535 non-drug related. A total of 8,200 homicide cases were under investigation "with motives to be determined," the PNP said.