(July 1, 2020) – The Philippines has promised to open a deeper and thorough investigation on thousands of people killed in the government’s anti-illegal drug operations, the justice secretary has said.
Speaking at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said an inter-agency panel was formed and would release its findings by November.
“This review panel external to the Philippine National Police reevaluates these cases and examines the propriety of reinvestigating them or filing appropriate charges against erring law enforcement officers,” he said.
Guevarra was responding to a report by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who told the Council of the situation in the Philippines, describing killings in the country as “widespread” and “systematic”.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, said the panel is “deeply flawed” as it will be led by the Justice department and will have among its members the country’s drug enforcement agency, which he said, is “directly implicated in the drug war.”
“At a time when the Philippines needs a serious impartial investigation into “drug war” killings, the panel is nothing more than a ruse to shield the country from international scrutiny,” Robertson said.
The former Chilean president said the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has been unwilling to hold accountable those behind them.
Since his assumption of office in 2016, more than 5,600 people, mostly poor drug users and street-level drug peddlers, had been killed in his brutal and bloody war on drugs policy. Human rights groups said there were more than 8,000 victims in the police’s drug war operations.
Duterte has actually began waging a war on drugs even earlier when he was still a lowly mayor of Davao City in Mindanao.
The campaign had attracted attention from the international community. His opponents had filed complaints against before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
A group of UN experts had asked the ICC to speed up and prioritize the preliminary examination of Duterte’s cases.
Guevarra said the panel, which he himself headed will also provide legal assistance to families against state forces involved, those “who overstepped legal bounds” in their operations.
“This review mechanism will not only reinforce accountability in this campaign, it will tighten the web of existing mechanisms to prevent impunity,” he added.
Duterte has solidly backed the police force engaged in the anti-drug campaign, assuring no one will go to jail for following his orders to kill drug suspects.
And with only two years left in office, he has not shown signs that the killings will come to an end anytime soon.
The UN human rights’ office report was requested by the Human Rights Council that sprung from a resolution introduced by Iceland, which asked an on-the-ground investigation of the situation in the Philippines.
“The findings of the report are very serious,” Bachelet said in her address to the council. “The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing.”
She added that human rights advocates, lawyers, trade unionists including journalists had been subjected to attacks and even killed in the country over the years.
“We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the State to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings,” Bachelet said. “Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice.”
The Philippines has won only one conviction when a court found three Caloocan police officers guilty of killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in 2018. (Christian de Lano Deiparine/MM)
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