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Philippines: Drug Deaths Surge Despite COVID-19, Rights Group Says

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
2020-09-09
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Philippine protesters call for justice following the killing of a human rights advocate in Quezon City, Aug. 19, 2020.
Philippine protesters call for justice following the killing of a human rights advocate in Quezon City, Aug. 19, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Community lockdowns intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines have failed to slow the drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte, a Human Rights Watch researcher said Wednesday.

If anything, killings related to the anti-drug campaign increased “dramatically” soon after Duterte ordered general quarantines for many densely populated regions, said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for HRW.

“Police killed 50 percent more people between April and July 2020 than they did in the previous four-month period,” Conde said in a statement on HRW’s website.

The New York-based human rights organization said it analyzed the government’s statistics and found that 155 people had been killed during “ostensible drug enforcement raids” in the past four months, despite quarantines restricting movement.

By contrast, “police killed 103 persons from December 2019 to March 2020,” it said.

The national police did not respond to BenarNews’ request for comment on Wednesday, but earlier this week the newly appointed chief of the country’s police force, Gen. Camilo Cascolan, denied that extra-judicial killings (EJK) existed in the country.

“First, if you have that notion, come to me, we will investigate. Number two, there is no such thing as EJK,” he said, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.

The national police last year admitted that about 6,600 suspected drug dealers and addicts had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. Officials said many were killed in clashes with officers after allegedly refusing to surrender.

In June 2019, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 8,600 people had been killed.

Despite those deaths, only one case – the murder of teenager Kian Lloyd delos Santos in Metro Manila – has resulted in the conviction of his killers, three police officers.

Rights defenders killed

In addition, activists have noted a spike during the pandemic in killings of human rights defenders, most of whom were accused by state security forces of links to the communist rebel movement. Since March 13, at least nine activists have been killed, according to Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights alliance Karapatan.

Two of the more notable deaths came just one week apart.

On Aug. 10, Randall Echanis, a consultant with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines representing rebels in peace talks, was found stabbed to death in his rented home in Metro Manila.

On Aug. 17, Zara Alvarez, who worked as a Karapatan paralegal and community health advocate, was gunned down as she walked home in Bacolod City on the central island of Negros.

Since taking office in June 2016, Duterte has become the subject of an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the drug deaths. In addition, U.N. experts and member-states have called on the Philippine government to allow an independent international investigation into alleged human rights abuses in the country.

The president has remained defiant and refused to allow foreign investigators, even threatening some with physical violence. He also withdrew the Philippines from the ICC.

HRW said it expected the Philippines “to continue to deny the allegations rather than offer a constructive response” when the U.N. Human Rights Council meets next month to deal with allegations of rights abuses in the country.

“But as the government’s own statistics show, the atrocities in the ‘drug war’ have worsened, even as the country suffers the worst in the region from the pandemic,” it said.

The Philippines has reported more than 245,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to disease experts at U.S. based-Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more than 27.6 million cases and more than 898,000 deaths have been recorded.

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