MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday promised accountability for those involved in the bloody war on drugs but stopped short of committing to prosecute even the President himself.
Asked to what level in Philippine government hierarchy will be held accountable for the thousands of deaths in the drug war, he said in a message: “To wherever the evidence will lead.”
“At the first instance, the investigation will focus on those who were actually involved in the ground operations and were identified as such by the PNP IAS,” he said, referring to the police Internal Affairs Service which found administrative liability on the part of cops involved in 52 cases.
“If in the course of the investigation it would appear that other persons were likewise involved in any capacity whatsoever, so be it. All persons against whom competent evidence will show a degree of culpability shall be made to account,” he added.
But will it include President Rodrigo Duterte himself, who has defended the drug war since Day 1 and ordered law enforcers to kill thousands of drug suspects, if they resist arrest?
“We’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” he said.
For now, Guevarra said he will leave it to the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to “review and improve their operational procedures.”
“The DOJ will be ready to provide assistance, if needed,” he said.
Guevarra’s statements come a day after he admitted that some 150 cops may be criminally liable for the 50 cases from the records of the Philippine National Police reviewed by the DOJ-led drug war review panel.
This is the second report, which followed an earlier initial report involving more than 300 drugs cases concluded in December last year, where it was found that law enforcement agents, in more than half the cases reviewed, failed to follow standard protocols and the weapons supposedly used by slain drug war suspects were not fully examined.
He bared these findings at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in February this year.
Guevarra however decline to publicly release both reports, which have been submitted to the President.
“The report itself is a confidential memo for the President. But we are informing the public of its contents, just as we did with the initial report,” he said on Sunday.
What is not clear at the moment is if the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will be given access to the first and second drug war review reports.
Cooperation with the CHR was among the points Guevarra touted when he spoke to the UN Human Rights Council last year.
“We’ll discuss this with the CHR,” Guevarra told media. "We may engage the CHR in this next phase of the work of the drug review panel."
The next phase of the drug review panel will involve monitoring of the 100 cases currently pending across the country, the NBI case buildup of the 50 cases and DOJ’s continuing review of similar National Prosecution Services cases in other parts of the country not covered by first report.
The drug war review is a major undertaking promised by the Philippine government to the UNHRC in June 2020, but is seen by many human rights organizations as the Philippine government’s way of evading a full-blown independent international probe into the drug war in the country.
The CHR has lamented that it was not asked to take part of the DOJ’s first drug war review.
The Philippines’ drug war review is currently facing intense scrutiny following the decision of the International Criminal Court to proceed with a formal probe on the drug war killings.
Other human rights groups meanwhile continue to call on the UNHRC to conduct its own independent, international probe on the deaths in the Philippines in connection with the bloody war on drugs.