DOJ says working with PNP to review thousands more drug war cases

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 22 2021 01:56 PM

 Relatives of victims of the war on drugs hold a protest in front of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City on July 17, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Relatives of victims of the war on drugs hold a protest in front of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City on July 17, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA— Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said his department is now “making arrangements” with the Philippine National Police to examine the rest of the more than 6,000 deaths in anti-drug operations.

This followed calls from families of drug war victims who were not covered in the justice department’s initial drug war review.

“We are currently making arrangements for the examination of the rest. I have discussed the matter with the PNP chief, who has committed to cooperate,” Guevarra told reporters. 

Guevarra, however, could not give an exact figure when asked how many drug war cases they intend to review.

“We’ll try to examine as many as we could. It all depends on the manpower resources that we can muster and the extent of cooperation that the PNP will extend to us,” he said.

“We may also consider random sampling of cases from all regions. It is possible that certain patterns may be observed without having to examine each and every case file,” he added.

Justice undersecretary Adrian Sugay on Thursday noted that because of the sheer number of the cases left, they may have to focus on urban areas.

But Guevarra did not say which areas the next round of drug war review will focus on or its timeframe. 

The DOJ released on Wednesday a table of 52 cases with information on the names of the drug suspects killed in police operations, causes of death and circumstances under which they died, based on records of the PNP Internal Affairs Service.

They found lapses in police protocols with important documents such as ballistics/paraffin tests, death certificates, crime scene reports, among others, missing. 

Most of the the drug suspects were killed in buy-bust operations where they supposedly drew their guns and fired at police officers, but some of the suspects tested negative for gun powder residue, casting doubt on the "nanlaban" narrative, or the claim that they had violently resisted arrest.

Some of the suspects also sustained multiple gunshot wounds leading to questions if excessive force was used by some 150 cops involved in these operations.

The DOJ also noted that most of the cops were only meted suspensions, with only a few dismissed from service and recommended for criminal prosecution.

The 52 cases have been forwarded to the NBI for case build-up for possible criminal prosecution.

But the Commission on Human Rights and various rights groups have pointed out that 52 is “too little, too late” considering the thousands of killings that have taken place due to the drug war in the past 5 years. 

Official PNP figures place the number of deaths in anti-drug operations since 2016 at more than 6,000, but rights groups believe it could be as high as 30,000.

Asked if the review will look into whether there is a pattern that could indicate a policy of killings of drug suspects, which the International Criminal Court is now looking into, Guevarra said it’s best to wait for statements from the respondent police officers.

Sugay on Wednesday night told TeleRadyo it’s too early to tell if there is such policy of killings based on 52 cases alone.

Guevarra clarified, however, that the DOJ review and the NBI case build-up will not be dependent on “cooperation” from police officers.

“It’s just cooperation in terms of making the case files readily available. These files are not consolidated or centralized in a single office but are to be found in the various regional offices of the PNP. We do not refer to cooperation of the respondent police officers,” he said.

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