MANILA — The United Nations human rights chief on Monday reminded the Philippine government that its internal review of the deaths related to the drug war in the country should lead to “meaningful results.”
Speaking during the opening of the 47th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a gathering of world leaders that accountability for the killings in the Philippines continues to be a major concern.
“I note steps taken by the government in its internal review of alleged police killings,” Bachelet said in her annual report to the UNHRC.
“It is important that reinvestigation of cases produces meaningful results as accountability for human rights violations remains a long standing concern in the Philippines,” she added.
Bachelet was referring to the drug war review panel announced by no less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra before the UNHRC in June last year, amid growing calls for the UN body to initiate an independent probe on the human rights situation in the country.
In her office’s damning report to the UNHRC last year, Bachelet noted widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity in the Philippines, brought about by a heavy-handed focus on security threats and illegal drugs.
Following the release of the report, Guevarra said during the 44th session of the UNHRC that an inter-agency panel has been looking into the deaths of 5,655 suspects in drug operations, re-evaluating investigations and actions taken by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) since February of last year.
Guevarra’s statement, among other promises by the Philippine government, were widely seen as having thwarted calls for an international independent probe on the Philippines.
Instead, the UNHRC passed a resolution in October 2020 which only called for support for human rights promotion in the Philippines through technical cooperation and capacity-building, short of an independent international probe which international rights groups have been asking for.
In her speech Monday, Bachelet said they are “close to finalizing the UN Joint Program on Human Rights with the government of the Philippines.”
NO CASES FILED VS COPS AS A RESULT OF DRUG WAR REVIEW
But one year since Guevarra’s statement before the UNHRC, the drug war review has only managed to finish its first partial report covering 328 cases of drug operations. No cases has yet been filed against erring cops.
The drug war review panel initial report was supposedly submitted to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte but no copy of the report nor a summary of its contents has ever been made public.
Instead, Guevarra made a surprise admission, through a video message, during the 46th regular session of the UNHRC in February this year, that in half of the cases they examined, law enforcement agents failed to follow standard protocols.
There were also no full examination of the weapons recovered in the crime scene, he said, which matched Bachelet’s findings in her office’s report that "police had repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations,” based on police reports on 25 police operations in Metro Manila from August 2016 to June 2017 which it examined.
Former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda took note of the DOJ’s internal review but said that “to date there appear to have been no further criminal prosecutions as a result,” in justifying her decision to proceed to seek judicial authorization to conduct a full-blown probe on the drug war killings in the Philippines.
LAW ENFORCERS’ COOPERATION
The willingness of law enforcers to allow their records to be examined has been one of the issues hampering the DOJ-led inter-agency review.
With the assumption of new PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the Justice department managed to secure an initial commitment to open records to 61 cases where the PNP IAS found administrative liability on the part of erring cops. The DOJ review will look into their possible criminal liability.
Eleazar, in an interview on ANC Rundown, would later say they are willing to open the records in all of the drug war cases upon DOJ’s request, only to backtrack to 53 cases after Duterte raised national security concerns.
CIVIL SOCIETY, CHR PARTICIPATION
In her speech Monday, Bachelet also reiterated the need for the Philippine government to work with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights.
“I again emphasize the importance of protecting and ensuring the participation of civil society and independent national human rights institution,” she said.
The Philippine human rights commission had complained it had been left out of the drug war review probe.
Guevarra told the UNHRC in February that the Philippine government has initiated discussions with the CHR on how to collaborate on the work of the inter-agency committee on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty, and security of persons.
The justice chief would later tell the media that with respect to the drug war review, the CHR might have to play a different role.