Thousands more drug war killings up for review

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 21 2021 03:28 PM

Members of human rights groups lay flowers on photos of victims of extrajudicial killings as part of activities leading up to International Human Rights Day at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City on Dec. 1, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Members of human rights groups lay flowers on photos of victims of extrajudicial killings as part of activities leading up to International Human Rights Day at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City on Dec. 1, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA— The justice department on Thursday said it still needs to look into around 6,000 more deaths under President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-narcotics drive after it released an initial report on possible lapses.

The agency on Wednesday released details on 52 drug war deaths where its review found that abuses may have taken place.

"Anim na libo iyan na natitira [na kaso ng pagpatay] na kailangan tingnan," said Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay. 

"Masyadong marami iyan, we have a few months to do it. Ang napag-usapan namin nila Secretary [Menardo Guevarra] sa loob ng DOJ, siguro nararapat na mag-concentrate tayo certain urban areas," he said in a televised public briefing. 

(Some 6,000 deaths still need to be looked at. That's too many and we have a few months to do it. What we agreed with Secretary inside the DOJ is perhaps we should concentrate on certain urban areas.)

Guevarra on Wednesday told Reuters the DOJ will review the other cases, "time and resources permitting." 

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The Philippines has come under pressure from the UN to hold a thorough probe and the International Criminal Court recently announced it would investigate the crackdown.

The government, however, has said it will not cooperate because the Philippine justice system is functioning.

Wednesday's release of details of 52 drug war deaths "is already part of open source" and "available to anybody," Sugay said, when asked if ICC can use the information. 

In several of the reviewed cases, victims had no traces of gunpowder on their hands, or did not have a gun at all.

The DOJ also said police had used excessive force, shot suspects at close range, and relevant medical and police records were missing.

The findings, which are subject to further case buildup and criminal charges, could challenge the government's narrative of the war on drugs.

Duterte has for 5 years defended police and argued that all those killed were drug dealers who fought back. He has publicly said police could kill if they believed they were in danger and he would pardon any who end up in prison.

Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar vowed no cover up.

"We will make sure to hold accountable those who should be held accountable," he said in a statement.

Carlos Conde, Senior Philippines Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the war on drugs was about more than a few rogue police.

He criticized what he called light punishment being recommended by police internal affairs, which included suspension, demotion or dismissal.

"Based on these 52 cases alone, it is clear that the drug war is an illegal, murderous state policy being carried out by police force that has been commanded by the president himself to disregard due process," Conde said.

One of the cases reviewed by the DOJ involved a suspect who was shot 15 times by police.

The DOJ said there was no crime scene report or autopsy, nor were ballistics or paraffin tests carried out to determine if the suspect was armed.

It said it was disclosing the findings so that families of victims could know deaths were being investigated, and to invite witnesses to come forward.

More than 6,000 people have been killed by police in the crackdown, but activists say many thousands more drug users and peddlers were shot dead by mysterious gunmen. Police have denied involvement in those. 

— With a report from Karen Lema, Reuters