Unique killings, same language, lawyers say of drug war reports
The police reports on the killings of suspects in President Duterte’s brutal war on drugs “leave much to be desired,” as these use stock language describing the victims as resisting arrest, lawyers who have challenged the legality of the crackdown on narcotics said on Thursday.
Lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) presented the first batch of Philippine National Police reports on the killings at a news conference two days after the Supreme Court ordered the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to release the documents.
The language used in the reports on the killings of suspects who allegedly resisted arrest is “nearly identical,” Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, the FLAG chair, said.
That’s true “in every single case where the police supposedly [had] to kill the suspects,” Diokno said.
‘It raises a lot of questions’
“If every case is unique in its facts, why is it that the language is the same?” Diokno asked, adding that it “raises a lot of questions.”
FLAG member Theodore Te, a former spokesperson for the Supreme Court, said the documents on 29 cases first submitted to the group by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) showed that pattern.
Te said the spot, incident, progress, investigation and final investigation reports used “nearly verbatim” descriptions of the suspects resisting arrest.
“Police documents across all 23 operations-related killings used strikingly similar, almost verbatim, language to describe the killings,” Te said.
According to him, the reports went something like this: “The suspect, upon sensing that he was transacting (or dealing) with police officers, suddenly drew his firearm and shot them but missed. Sensing that [their lives were] in danger, [the police officers] returned fire.”
Diokno and Te said the records were incomplete and in many of the cases relevant documents “were not made available.”
FLAG represents a survivor of a police drug raid and two others whose relatives were slain by police in drug sweeps.
Together with FLAG, another group of lawyers, the Center for International Law (CenterLaw), has questioned in the Supreme Court the legality of the police operations, bringing the case on behalf of 26 barangays in Manila’s San Andres Bukid which have asked for protection against the police.
In December 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the OSG to hand over the police reports on more than 4,000 killings in the war on drugs.
The OSG complied, but Solicitor General Jose Calida opposed making the reports public on grounds of national security.
The court rejected Calida’s argument and ordered him to release the reports to FLAG and CenterLaw.
Calida’s office initially released documents on 29 cases to FLAG but was ordered by the Supreme Court on Tuesday to hand over all the reports to the group and CenterLaw.
The reports FLAG received were part of the first batch of documents submitted by the OSG last year.
According to FLAG’s study of the cases, there were 37 victims, all male. Thirty-one of them were blacklisted for drugs and 23 were killed in police operations.
Six of the victims were killed by unknown assailants. Nineteen were killed in so-called buy-bust operations.
FLAG found lapses in police procedures, including what happened to the illegal drugs seized during police operations.
According to Te, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) should take custody of seized or surrendered drugs, but none was turned over to the agency.
He said the drugs were turned over to the PNP Crime Laboratory.
“The Crime Lab’s only involvement should be to identify if these are actually illegal drugs,” Te said.
According to the PNP, 5,281 people have been killed since the President launched his war on drugs in July 2016.
After failing to solve the drug problem in six months, as he promised during his campaign, Mr. Duterte extended the campaign up to the end of his term in 2022.
He promised a “harsher” war on drugs. —PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU
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