PHILIPPINE law enforcers did not follow standard operating protocol (SOP) in the conduct of anti-drug operations in more than half of the cases where suspects were killed for allegedly resisting arrest, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted to the United Nations on Wednesday night.
Guevarra said this was among the initial findings of the inter-agency panel that reviewed the deaths of 5,655 suspected users and traders of prohibited narcotics in relation to the government’s war against illegal drugs.
In a speech before participants of the High-Level Segment of the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in “In more than half of the records reviewed, the law enforcement agents failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and processing of the crime scene,” Guevarra said, the first acknowledgement by a government official of excesses and abuses in the PNP’s campaign against drugs.
The secretary of the Department of Justice told his audience that the review showed that the police did not conduct full examination of weapons recovered from dead suspects.
“Our initial and preliminary findings confirm that in many of these cases, law enforcement agents asserted that the subject of the anti-drug operations resisted arrest or attempted to draw a weapon and fight back. Yet, no full examination of the weapon was conducted, no verification of its ownership undertaken, and no request for ballistic examination or paraffin test was pursued until its completion,” Guevarra added.
Guevarra said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the inter-agency panel headed by the DOJ was only able to look at a “sample size” of the 5,655 deaths who were killed in “nanlaban incidents,” or when the suspect/suspects resisted arrest.
Aside from the DOJ, the other members of the panel are the Departments of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and Local Government, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Dangerous Drugs Board, Presidential Management Staff, Presidential Communications Operation Office and the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat. The CHR is also involved in the review as an independent monitoring body.
Guevarra told reporters the DOJ panel reviewed cases from Bulacan, including San Jose Del Monte City; Cavite, including Bacoor City; Pampanga, including Angeles City; and parts of the National Capital Region because “these are the areas with the highest number of incidents.”
He added the panel “may expand the geographical coverage of the review so that they can see the overall picture.”
Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said that out of the 5,655 deaths in anti-illegal drug operations which was covered in the drug war review, only 916 complaints were filed with the National Prosecution Service as of December 2020, and only 328 were made available for review.
Guevarra said the initial findings have been referred to PNP higher authorities, who he said, told the panel that appropriate internal investigations have already been conducted.
“Scores of police officers have been recommended for administrative and criminal action,” he told the UN body, adding: “It is now the immediate task of the review panel to ensure that these recommendations have been acted upon and carried out by the proper disciplinary authorities, and that measures are adopted to avoid loss of lives in legitimate law enforcement operations against illegal drugs.”
Reacting to Guevarra’s disclosure, PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana said police chief Gen. Debold Sinas has already created a technical working group to look into the issues. The TWG is expected to submit its recommendations by the first week of March.
Guevarra also told the UN that the panel has started discussions with the Commission on Human Rights on the issue of abuses committed by police officers.
In closing his speech to the UNHRC, Guevarra emphasized that the country’s legal and judicial system and domestic accountability mechanisms are fully functioning contrary to what critics have said.
“We reject any attempt by any external entity to assume jurisdiction over internal matters which are being addressed more than adequately by our national institutions and authorities,” he added.
It will be recalled that a July 2020 report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that in most these anti-drug war cases, cops planted guns and other evidence on the suspects.
The OHCHR report was based on police reports on 25 operations it examined from August 2016 to June 2017 in Metro Manila. It also documented numerous human rights violations and persistent impunity in the Philippines.
The report likewise noted that of the 4,583 investigations conducted by the PNP Internal Affairs Service from July 2016 to May 2019, only one case – the case of 17-year old Kian delos Santos – resulted in the conviction of three police officers assigned at the Caloocan police station, and that this was due largely to public outrage and footages taken by close circuit television cameras.
Various human rights groups such as the Human Rights Watch have previously criticized the inter-agency panel review of drug war deaths, saying it is part of the propaganda of the Duterte administration to appease the UNHRC and prevent it from taking action on the abuses committed in the bloody anti-drug campaign.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers said the inter-agency report cited by Guevarra before the UNHRC is meant to divert blame to police operatives only.
“It appears that the inter-agency report wittingly or unwittingly diverts the primary and sole blame on lowly police operatives and insulated and saved the principal enablers of the extrajudicial killings. President Duterte himself and top officials goading, sanctioning and condoning the extrajudicial killings,” NUPL President Edre Olalia said.
Olalia said the findings cited by Guevarra are belated realization and that while it validated the criticisms of sloppy police work and the false narratives of “nanlaban,” it dodged the most important question on why the extrajudicial killings happened in the first place.
Likewise, Olalia said the domestic mechanisms and remedies touted by Guevarra are “functioning not for justice but by and large to delay, deny and deprive full justice to the victims.”