DOJ chief tells UN rights body new panel to probe 5,000 deaths in police anti-drug operations
The Department of Justice on Tuesday (June 30) said it has created an inter-agency panel to evaluate some 5,000 drug-related police operations that resulted in deaths.
In a speech delivered via video to the 44th meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the DOJ, which heads the inter-agency panel, is currently conducting a “judicious review” of 5,655 anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred. The panel will come up with a report by November, Guevarra added.
“We have established an inter-agency panel chaired by my office that is conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred,” he said in the speech.
Guevarra added that the panel will be “external to the Philippine National Police,” and will re-evaluate cases, and determine if they are worth reinvestigating, or if those involved should face charges.
“The panel intends to engage affected families, provide them with legal options, and assistance in criminal prosecution of law enforcers who have overstepped legal bounds in their operations,” Guevarra said.
The justice secretary also claimed that the review mechanism will not only reinforce accountability in the drug campaign, but will also “tighten the web on existing mechanisms to prevent cases of impunity.”
Guevarra made the commitment before the UNHRC, which on Tuesday heard UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s report on the rights situation in the Philippines. Bachelet’s office earlier found that there was “near impunity” in the killing of drug suspects by law enforcers in the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.
In addition to the PNP having no role in the investigations, Guevarra also said the panel would engage with the Commission on Human Rights as an independent monitoring body. This was an apparent effort to ward off the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is currently investigating a claim of crimes against humanity being committed in the Philippines.
“The continued, unhampered functioning of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights underpins our strong position against calls for an independent investigative mechanism including the one made before the International Criminal Court,” Guevarra said.
The ICC is set to decide whether the situation in the Philippines merited a formal investigation. The ICC will open a formal investigation only if it finds that the Philippines is either unable or unwilling to prosecute alleged crimes.
In her report, Bachelet noted that the “absence of clear and measurable outcomes from domestic mechanisms” should push the UNHRC to “consider options for international accountability measures,” a likely reference to the ICC.
However, in his interpolation, Guevarra insisted that the Philippine justice system works.
He cited at least two cases—the conviction of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. in 2018 for the abduction and disappearance of two female University of the Philippines students and the conviction of members of the Ampatuan clan for multiple murder in connection with the killing of at least 57 media workers in 2009 now infamously known as the Maguindanao massacre.
“Excellencies’ claims that there is impunity or near impunity in the country find no anchor in a system that provides every avenue to examine, establish or pursue a claim of wrongdoing by a state actor, if such claim is substantiated with facts,” Guevarra added in his video speech.
However, human rights group Karapatan is unconvinced that the creation of yet another panel will bear fruit.
“We have been on this road before, of creation of task forces and commissions which do not deliver justice and accountability but are only put up to make it appear that they are doing something about the killings,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
“These were used as tools for whitewashing instead of for the genuine delivery of justice,” she told Inquirer.
Palabay added that it was unlikely that a new inter-agency judicial panel can render justice, especially under the what she said was a worsening “climate of impunity under Duterte.”
Palabay also made a plea to the ICC, asking it to continue its investigation on alleged crimes against humanity being committed in the Philippines.
“We hope that the ICC pursues its examination and investigation on the complaints pending before the said body, as we reiterate our call to the UNHRC for an independent investigation,” Palabay said.