In December 2014, the global human rights monitor Amnesty International slammed the administration of President Benigno Aquino III for what it said was the “very widespread and routine” practice by police of torturing suspected criminals. Five years earlier, in 2009, the last year of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s 9-year stay in Malacañang, it denounced the “hundreds of unlawful and often politically-motivated killings [that] have taken place as well as enforced disappearances, often involving torture…,” and urged Arroyo to leave behind a positive human-rights legacy.
It’s important to note these previous statements in light of the latest report by Amnesty International, titled “If you are poor, you are killed: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ War on Drugs.” The result of an inquiry into President Duterte’s war on drugs and crime, the report alleges that the campaign has become a virtual money-making racket for officers of the Philippine National Police. Specifically, policemen are said to have been paid from P8,000 to P15,000 to kill suspected drug offenders, and that the orders for the killings came “from high-level officials.”
The reaction from Duterte partisans has been typical: Not only is Amnesty International biased and selective in its denunciation of the administration, but also, as put by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, it’s none of their business (“Ano ba ang pakialam nila?”).
Amnesty International’s record of chiding administrations of whatever stripe for their perceived human-rights lapses easily debunks the charge that it is singling out the incumbent. During the dark years of martial law, for example, it was unrelenting in its denunciation of the torture, deaths and disappearances (copies of its reports were circulated by the anti-Marcos resistance in secret). It has been consistent in advocating greater respect for due process and human rights, whether it was Marcos, Arroyo, or Aquino in Malacañang. Thus, in dismissing outright its incendiary findings, and in declaring that Mr. Duterte is beyond the pale of international scrutiny and accountability for his actions, Alvarez and company are merely serving as reliable lackeys of the Palace instead of fulfilling their basic duty to hold the government to the highest standards of probity and transparency.
Especially in the case of Mr. Duterte’s centerpiece war on drugs, which, before it was suspended as a result of the uproar over the kidnap-murder by cops of a Korean businessman, had become an all-out assault on impoverished Filipinos. Most of the 7,000 killed so far were destitute, and died without the benefit of the fundamental due process that was their right as citizens. But even that terrible body count was still insufficient to move the administration to take a second look at its imploding campaign—now officially suspended, but still reaping corpses in the night.
Amnesty International’s investigation yielded a chilling finding: Killing a suspected drug pusher or user meant extra money for cops. Since they’re paid per dead head, “there’s no incentive for arresting,” a police officer is quoted as saying in the report. “It never happens that there’s a shootout and no one is killed.” The report further alleges that these “extrajudicial executions, perpetrated both by police during anti-drug operations and by paid killers with police involvement, appear to have been organized and planned by high-level officials.”
But the grisly profiting from the very anticrime campaign that these law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold apparently does not end there. According to Amnesty International, the police have “established a racket with funeral homes, who reward them for each dead body sent their way.” Likewise, in a report in this paper, the families of some of the victims related that the police demanded money for the release of their kin arrested on drug suspicion: “I gave them the money,” said a mother, “but they still killed my son.”
Amnesty International’s report is frightening—but more frightening is the blithe way this administration is brushing it aside.
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