Letters to the Editor

Accountability for drug war killings

/ 05:02 AM February 10, 2018

A Philippine court filed murder charges against three police officers for the alleged summary execution of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos during an antidrug operation on Aug. 16, 2017, in Caloocan City, north of Manila. The killing of the teenager prompted mass protests.

Police antidrug officers claimed they killed Delos Santos after he fired on them during an antidrug operation. However, both witness accounts and close circuit television camera footage indicate that police executed the unarmed youth while he was in police custody and dumped his body in an alley.


This case is a rare instance in which the Philippine justice system has taken genuine steps to prosecute anyone for killing suspected drug users and dealers under President Duterte’s “war on drugs,” launched in June 2016. The handful of previous prosecutions of police personnel implicated in the thousands  of alleged drug war killings have not resulted in convictions.

In July, Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa reinstated 18 police officersfacing homicide charges in the 2016 killing of Rolando Espinosa Sr., mayor of Albuera, Leyte. Dela Rosa announced that those officers, released on bail in June, “can be utilized again by the PNP for whatever assignment.” This, despite compelling evidence that the officers committed “premeditated murder” when they shot Espinosa to death in a jail cell on Nov. 5, 2016. Espinosa had surrendered to the police following public accusations by Mr. Duterte that he was a drug trafficker.


Accountability for drug war killings has been hobbled by the refusal of the PNP and the government to allow for an independent inquiry of those deaths. Dela Rosa has dismissed calls for such an investigation as “legal harassment” and said the demand “dampens the morale” of police officers. In August, Mr. Duterte vowed to pardon and promote any police personnel implicated in unlawful killings. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has sought to deter calls for accountability by deploying blatant falsehoods to whitewash the antidrug campaign as lawful and rights-respecting.

These challenges underscore the need for a United Nations-led investigation to help provide accountability for all drug war victims, including Kian Loyd delos Santos.

PHELIM KINE, deputy director,

Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

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TAGS: EJK, Kian, PNP, war on drugs
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