‘Disinformation, empty promises’
The Philippine government is pleased that, far from undertaking an inquiry into its war on drugs that has raised global concern, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will instead provide “technical cooperation and capacity-building” to help President Duterte’s administration ensure that unlawful killings and other rights violations are properly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted. Malacañang said the resolution expressing the council’s intent was “very much appreciated.”
But local and foreign rights groups are aggrieved by the council’s decision to adopt the resolution pushed by the Philippines and seven other countries including five nonmembers. The decision is a “collective failure” that “fails to reflect the gravity of the situation on the ground,” Human Rights Watch, founded in 1978, said. In its own statement, EcuVoice Philippines said it believed “programs for technical cooperation and capacity-building would not decisively curb the worsening human rights situation in the country.”
The resolution embodies a big step back from the UNHRC’s earlier stance, when High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet flagged the “widespread and systematic” killings in the war on drugs and recommended a wide-ranging investigation. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines said it was “dismayed” at how “disinformation and empty promises were peddled” by Philippine officials to the council and how, “through state-funded public relations, they were able to circulate documents that tried to paint a human rights-friendly Philippine government.”
Still, Filipino rights advocates pledged to continue to protest the climate of impunity that has allowed the killing of tens of thousands of mostly impoverished drug suspects and to monitor their cases to pinpoint accountability. The Philippine National Police counts 7,884 deaths during the period July 1, 2016-Aug. 31, 2020, not including victims of vigilante-style killings. But rights groups estimate that more than 20,000 lives have been snuffed out under the aegis of Oplan Tokhang, supposedly while resisting arrest, or, in the police code, “nanlaban.”
The administration denies that the killing of drug suspects — occasionally done through “one time, big time” police operations that yield scores of corpses, as in 32 in Bulacan on Aug. 15, 2017 — is a policy. But only one case so far — the murder of teenager Kian delos Santos, as he cried he was innocent and begged to be freed so he could study for an exam the next day—has resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of his killers. On the other hand, the killing in his very cell of a town mayor detained on drug charges actually led to the promotion of the cops involved.
As though he had not issued statements seen to encourage the extinction of people suspected of dealing and using drugs—the fish in Manila Bay will grow fat on their corpses, he once quipped; “Maganda ’yun” was his response to the 32-strong, one-day-only haul of dead bodies in Bulacan — Mr. Duterte disclosed ordering a “discreet” inquiry which supposedly showed that the extrajudicial killings were due to bloody clashes between competing drug syndicates. That remark he made at the Cabinet meeting early last week may arguably apply in certain cases, but, as observed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, it could not be denied that “rogue” law enforcers “resort to killing drug suspects for various reasons.”
During the same Cabinet meeting, Mr. Duterte ordered that seized illegal drugs be destroyed. (He also denied ever having killed anyone, contrary to admissions of the fact, all recorded.) It is not known if, as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a text message on Oct. 7, a memorandum circular has been issued directing prosecutors to give “top priority to the resolution of [drug cases], to file the informations ASAP, and to move for a court order to conduct ocular inspection of and destroy the seized drugs … within the time specified in RA 9165.” The bewildered observer is driven to wonder why this directive is necessary, given that these steps should have been taken in the course of the continuing war on drugs, in accordance with the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
In welcoming the UNHRC resolution, which the detained Sen. Leila de Lima described as “tantamount to absolving a murderous regime of its crimes against humanity,” Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said the administration was “not perfect” but was prepared to “fully cooperate with the UN human rights system.”
The Palace should strictly be taken at its word and watched at every turn. But Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has indicated how the cookie will crumble: Manila will not cooperate with Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and others who, he said, “already prejudged what happened in the Philippines.” Shame.
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