CHR will monitor PNP's return to drug war, says Gascon

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 24 2017 06:09 PM

MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Friday said it will closely monitor the return of the police force as the lead agency in the war on drugs.

The commission, which President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called out for criticizing his narcotics crackdown, "will monitor all actions taken," said Gascon.

"The President as chief executive is required to enforce the laws but when he does so, he must always comply with the constitution and established human rights standards," CHR Chairman Chito Gascon told reporters at an Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) forum.

"We in the CHR will not tell him what he should or should not do. We will inform him as well as other members of the administration when we see that they transgress human rights standards which he is also obliged to uphold and defend," he added.

He added, whether Duterte's actions are lawful or unlawful will be determined "in the course of appropriate proceedings."

"The CHR is mandated to monitor all forms of human rights violations as they occur in the last 18 month. In the course of the administration's war on drugs, we have monitored violations and we have called this out, whether it was the police or later transferred to PDEA and now re-transferred back to police," he said.

IBP President Adiel Elijah Fajardo said there are pending motions before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to stop police force's "Oplan Double Barrel."

"Kung sinabi ng SC ay invalid, unconstitutional, therefore illegal, mawawalan ng basis ang PNP to take the lead," he said.

He added, his reading of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act says the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency must be the lead agency in its enforcement and the Dangerous Drugs Board in policy-creation.

"Police, NBI et cetera, are just support organizations, from the reading of the law are support lang," he said.

The IBP and the CHR have signed a partnership so that CHR can refer victims of families of apparent extra judicial killings to the IBP for free legal assistance.

Fajardo said IBP noticed that the justice system has been overloaded with cases related to the drug war, which have in turn made the dispensation of justice slower. 

"Napansin namin talagang ang court system talagang overloaded na. Kasi nga, imagine mo halimbawa thousands of apprehensions thousands of those cases to be heard to be processed and prosecuted. Lahat naapektuhan, pati civil cases, maapektuhan sa scheduling…konti korte triple mo load nila because of the drug cases," he said.

He added, it also became apparent how dockets of the court as well as the prosecution services "have ballooned for the past year or so because of the ongoing campaign against illegal substances."

"This is alarming because the quality of the justice we dispense might suffer if there is just so many cases and the infrastructure of the judiciary as well as the DOJ cannot cope with the demand for justice," he said.

The IBP, he said, is looking forward to partnering with the CHR for a referral system and be able to assist the families who cannot afford to have the services of a private counsel.

Gascon added, there had been many different human rights violations happening amid the government's war on drugs, not only extrajudicial killings.

He cited, there had been incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearances.

CHR was investigating 946 cases involving 1151 victims related to the war on drugs, 521 of which are on police operations while 425 are on alleged vigilante killings.

Gascon said he was also concerned at the pervading sense of impunity in the country even as he called on government to cooperate with human rights defenders.

"Our cause of concern is primarily the sense of impunity that has pervaded the country where violations occur and no one is held to account," he said.

"We have asked for the cooperation of the police in our investigations and continue to expect the government to respond accordingly to this request for cooperation," he added.

Gascon said they have asked the police to give them all the case folders of all cases of deaths arising from the war on drugs, but "they have not turned over any of these case folders to the commission, even though we are constitutionally mandated to monitor and investigate possible cases of violations."

"Whether its the PNP or any law enforcement agency that will pursue these efforts of the war on drugs of the administration, we will just continue to do our part as we expect them to do their part in terms of assisting us in ensuring the public is reassured that no human rights violations are occurring," he said.