Palace denies Duterte ordered to withhold info on activist killings from rights commission

Angela Coloma, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 22 2020 11:43 AM | Updated as of Aug 22 2020 12:03 PM

MANILA - Malacañang on Saturday denied a report alleging that President Rodrigo Duterte instructed had police to withhold information on recent attacks against rights defenders and activists from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). 

This, after a CHR official alleged the chief executive himself had ordered to refuse the commission access to such information. 

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte “adheres to the law” and would want justice for those who lost their loved ones, citing the chief executive’s participation in law practice. 

“As an officer of the court, being a lawyer, the President adheres to the rule of law and he wants the wheels of justice to grind, for the sake of the victims of abuse and violence and their families,” he said.

Roque said the Duterte administration was “equally interested” to hold the suspects accountable. 

“The Administration is equally interested to unmask those behind these brazen killings, which are being blamed to state agents, and we will leave no stone unturned to put these people behind bars.” 

In an interview with ANC, CHR Commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento said its investigation into the killing of 89 activists and rights defenders was put on hold because of the pandemic and the police’s supposed unwillingness to cooperate. 

“Unfortunately, there is an order from the President himself not to give the Commission on Human Rights the data,” the commissioner told ANC Friday. 

Armamento said the commission would have to make do without copies of police reports, and that they have encountered some difficulty because of pandemic-induced lockdowns. 

Just this August 10, activist Randell Echanis, was found dead with multiple stab wounds from a spiked weapon, according to a forensic pathologist. Armamento had also said they were meant to “cause pain.” 

The CHR said he was tortured to death. 

Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun, who conducted an independent autopsy four days after Echanis’ death, said the peasant leader did not die of a gunshot wound to the head nor have any gunshot wounds, contrary to the initial death certificate of the victim. 

Just days later, human rights defender Zara Alvarez was gunned down in Bacolod City.