Multiple gunshot wounds in slain drug suspects, absence of reports dominate DOJ drug war review

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 20 2021 12:10 PM | Updated as of Oct 20 2021 05:40 PM

Coroners pass through crowds as they carry 1 of the 3 bodies of drug pushers killed in a buy bust operation in Pandacan Manila on July 21, 2016. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Coroners pass through crowds as they carry 1 of the 3 bodies of drug pushers killed in a buy bust operation in Pandacan Manila on July 21, 2016. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) —The Department of Justice on Wednesday released a 20-page information table on 52 cases involving deaths during police anti-narcotics operations in the country.

Of the cases the DOJ reviewed, majority were buy-bust operations. The suspects allegedly drew their guns and resisted arrest, but some medical reports showed suspects tested negative for gunpowder nitrates.

In many cases, there were no ballistics or paraffin tests, autopsy report, death certificates, SOCO reports or other documents on record, the DOJ report showed.

Some of the suspects sustained multiple gunshot wounds, according to the review.

The DOJ said around 150 policemen were involved in the 52 cases. They were found administratively liable and meted penalties, ranging from reprimand and suspension to demotion and dismissal from service. 

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is now conducting case build-up for possible criminal cases.

Suspension was meted out to those involved in 35 cases, while dismissal from service was imposed on cops involved in 8 cases.

It is not immediately clear how many cops were suspended or dismissed from service because aside from the DOJ’s refusal to release their names, it also did not provide the number of cops involved in each case. 

The cases covered by the DOJ's second drug war review were from all over the country.

Only a few cases were from the National Capital Region where most of the thousands of drug war killings were recorded.

As the agency pointed out, one of the 52 cases did not appear to be drug-related, while another one did not involve the death of a suspect.

This is the first time the DOJ released information since it started its drug war review in February 2020. The agency has yet to release similar information on the over 300 cases it scrutinized under the first drug war review.

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Hounded by international and local pressure to investigate the drug war killings with a looming International Criminal Court (ICC) probe, the PNP in the middle of this year forwarded these cases to the DOJ for the latter's second drug war review.

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber last month gave its green light for the ICC Prosecutor to conduct a formal probe on the drug war killings in the Philippines.

Earlier this month, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced they found potential criminal liability on the part of police officers but held off disclosing key details or making the report public. 


Of 52 that were reviewed, 37 were drug buy-bust operations where suspects allegedly resisted arrest and fought back using their own guns.

But even the PNP’s own Internal Affairs Service doubted the self-defense claims raised by the police because in at least seven cases, the suspects accused of resisting arrest or "nanlaban" tested negative for gunpowder nitrates in paraffin tests. 

There were no ballistics/paraffin tests, autopsy reports, death certificates, SOCO reports or other documents available in some 27 cases. 

In two cases, the firearms were subjected to paraffin test, not the suspects themselves.

Another finding is the presence of multiple gunshot wounds that caused the death of drug suspects in 21 of the 52 cases.

By “multiple,” there were at least two gunshot wounds, with one case — in 2017 in Cagayan — wherein the suspect bore no less than 15 gunshot wounds on the head, trunk, and upper and lower extremities.

In five cases, the DOJ noted that the suspects were shot at close range.

There were no details as to the number of gunshot wounds in 25 cases.

Some of the cases covered by the second drug war review happened in 2016, but no criminal cases have yet been filed in most of the cases. 

One case, that of teenager Carl Arnaiz, has reached the court, with the Caloocan Regional Trial Court issuing warrants of arrest against two cops in 2018.

The murder case was however refiled in a court in Navotas where Arnaiz was killed, while the torture and planting of evidence cases remain in Caloocan, where he was detained.

In all three cases, the defense is presenting evidence, according to the Public Attorney’s Office that acts as the lawyer for the parents of Arnaiz. 

Guevarra on Tuesday said the DOJ is releasing the information in the interest of transparency — to inform the families of slain drug suspects and possible witnesses who might testify in the case.

But, on the same day, rights groups NUPL and Karapatan scored the DOJ for “going through the motions,” accusing the agency of “window dressing.”

The drug war review is a major commitment of the Philippine government to the United Nations Human Rights Council. 


The DOJ released the matrix about a month after the ICC launched a full inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. 

The agency's findings "belie all claims that the President is responsible under the principle of command responsibility," said presidential spokesman Harry Roque. 

"On the contrary, it proves that the Philippine state has in fact investigated and prosecuted individuals for these extralegal killings," he told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum. 

"In the 52 cases, there’s not been an instance where there’s been a determination that the President ordered the killing or the President did not do anything to punish those who committed criminal acts," added the official. 


Human rights groups and lawyers described the development as the "tip of the iceberg," with the 52 cases among thousands hardly indicating transparency. 

NUPL Chairman Neri Colmenares, who lawyers for some families of drug war victims, pointed to other cases that need deeper build-up. 

Colmenares vowed that NUPL would keep monitoring such cases, and assist witnesses and the victims' families.

Officially, 6,200 drug suspects were killed in what police said were sting operations where suspects resisted arrest since the start of the Duterte administration.

"The information is quite damning but not surprising. One death is 
simply too much, and these 52 show a grim image of irregularities," the NUPL said in a statement. 

"[It] confirms what we already know of the PNP's abuse of power in conducting powers under Duterte's brutal drug war... The 52 cases, and there are definitely more, only show that the drug war is not a success that the Duterte administration paints it to be," Colmenares said. 

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said the DOJ's review of the 52 cases "barely scratches the surface and is grossly insufficient and inconsistent with the government's commitments under international law." 

It also emphasized that the review revealed the lack of transparency in the probe of drug war killings in the country. 

"The panel must review all the necessary cases, including those barred by the President. This is not just to fulfill in good faith the country's international commitments under international law but also to provide the true picture of the extent of the killings under the so-called 'war on drugs," FLAG said.

Human Rights Watch's Carlos Conde, meanwhile, said the information from DOJ affirmed what rights groups and media reports have been saying -- that the country's drug war violates due process and police procedures. 

Conde hoped that the DOJ would prosecute the cases, and the United Nations Human Rights Council and ICC would act.

"While the DOJ's move to make details of these cases public is welcome, we have to point out that 52 cases out of thousands of cases hardly indicate compliance with transparency and accountability," he said. 

"If anything, this only raises the question as to what happened with all the other cases, whether those were investigated or are being investigated, and whether the government is willing to be transparent about them." 

Rights alliance Karapatan said the DOJ's review should go beyond filing cases against cops.

It should also give the public and the victims' families "clear answers" as to the patterns in the killings, who are the perpetrators, what were the bases and how these were affected by Duterte and the PNP's policies, Karapatan said.

"These persistent and still unanswered questions lead to a view that these efforts, aside from being too little and too late, can only be a mere window dressing by the current administration amidst the magnified scrutiny by the ICC and the UNHRC," it added.

The Commission on Human Rights welcomed the DOJ's report, but reminded the government of its responsibility to investigate thousands of other cases. 

The CHR offered to assist in an independent probe, but reiterated its plea to be given access to case files.

"We remind the government that the responsibility to protect life and ensure justice for the violations of human rights are a primary State obligations, especially in the context of the observed 'widespread and systematic' human rights violations and persistent impunity in the country, as reported by the UN Human Rights Office in June 2020," the commission said.

"CHR stresses that the first step towards making perpetrators accountable for their offenses is through genuine and straightforward investigations."

Activists say many thousands more people, mostly users or small-time dealers, were killed in slum communities by mystery gunmen. Police have denied involvement in those deaths.
—With a report from Reuters