Philippine Justice Dept Reveals Alleged Police Abuses in Drug War

Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Cotabato, Philippines
Philippine Justice Dept Reveals Alleged Police Abuses in Drug War Workers in protective clothes carry the body of an alleged victim of an extra-judicial killing after its exhumation from a grave inside a public cemetery in Manila, Sep. 17, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Philippine justice officials released details Wednesday of possible abuses tied to officer-involved killings in the country’s war on drugs, prompting the president’s spokesman to say this proved the Duterte administration had not ignored its human rights obligations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) made public a 20-page report, which contains information about how police officers allegedly staged gunbattles during counter-narcotics sting operations, among other questionable actions.

“I can only commend the DOJ for this conclusion because this proves that the President has not been remiss in his obligation to investigate perpetrators of these crimes,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.

The report is a rare official record of possible abuses committed by state authorities during President Rodrigo Duterte’s five-year-old crackdown on illegal drugs. The report also challenges the narrative that police shot dead drugs suspects in self-defense.

On Tuesday , the DOJ announced it had wrapped up a review of 52 deadly officer-involved shootings and referred those cases to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for further action and the possible filing of charges against errant policemen. 

Under the Duterte administration, the police have killed about 8,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers, primarily in the sprawling slums of Manila. The number could be as high as 30,000, according to human rights advocates and drug-war survivors.

Glimpses into some killings

One of the cases detailed in the DOJ report was the case of Nave Perry Alcantara, a 17-year-old who was killed during an alleged shootout with police in August 2018.

An internal affairs investigation by police showed that the suspect was standing too close to officers, indicating that there couldn’t have been a gunbattle. The teen also sustained three gunshot wounds, indicating the use of excessive force, according to an excerpt from the report.

“Paraffin tests showed that both hands of the suspect were negative for gunpowder nitrates,” the report said, noting that the policeman who shot Alcantara was only suspended for two months.

In another incident, a suspect was shot no less than 15 times after he allegedly fired at the police, though no reports were filed, including ballistics or an autopsy, according to excerpts. The police officer received a 31-day suspension from duty.

In more than 30 of the cases investigated, no paraffin tests and no operations reports followed. There were also missing examination and autopsy reports as well as death certificates, excerpts said.

The officers involved in the 52 cases were found to be administratively liable and were only ordered dismissed, suspended, or demoted. However, possible criminal cases are to follow upon further investigation by the NBI, according to the report.

On Tuesday, the DOJ said it recommended the bureau conduct a case buildup against 154 police officers who were involved in the 52 cases. It said it released the information so that families of the drug suspects could access the case records and follow up on the investigations.

The release of the information came nearly two weeks after Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged the Philippine government to publish the investigation’s findings.

Duterte, meanwhile, is facing two complaints at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

One was filed by a former police officer and a self-styled assassin who accused Duterte of ordering the deaths of opponents and criminals when he served as the mayor of the southern city of Davao. The second was filed by relatives of several people killed during the counter-narcotics campaign.

In September, the ICC approved a request by a former chief prosecutor to investigate the thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippine drug war.

Justice system functioning well

Contrary to assertions made by human rights groups, Roque argued that the release of the information showed that the justice system in the Philippines was functioning and that families of victims of alleged rights abuses were being given “effective domestic remedy.”

“I think these findings of the DOJ will belie all claims that the president is responsible under the principle of command responsibility because, on the contrary, it proves that the Philippine state has, in fact, investigated and prosecuted individuals for these extralegal killings,” Roque said.

Roque, a former rights lawyer, expressed confidence that the president could defend himself from accusations of being blamed for the bloodshed.

“I don’t think it says anything about the culpability of the president because in the 52 cases, there’s not been an instance where there’s been a determination that the (he) ordered the killing,” he said. “Or that the president did not do anything to punish those who committed criminal acts.”

Jacqueline Ann de Guia, spokeswoman for the independent Commission on Human Rights, welcomed the government’s move but said there were many other cases still out of the public eye.

“We hope that the release of the said information may be helpful to the victims’ families in knowing the status of the investigation and, more importantly, encourage witnesses to come out and participate towards the resolution of cases of these deaths,” de Guia said in a statement.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the small number of cases out of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines “hardly indicate compliance with transparency and accountability.”

“If anything, this only raises the question as to what happened with all the other cases, whether those were investigated or are being investigated, and whether the government is willing to be transparent about them,” HRW senior Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement.

Last month, Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly that he had ordered a review of the national police’s campaign against drugs while promising that “those found to have acted beyond bounds during operations shall be made accountable before our laws.”


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