PH report to UN rights body fans drug war criticism
The government’s report to the United Nations acknowledging critical flaws in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs provided fresh ammo for its critics, with one lawyers’ group saying it merely served as a “smokescreen” that put the blame on lowly police officers while shielding higher-ups who were the “principal enablers’’ of extrajudicial killings.
In a video message to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who leads an interagency panel reviewing the drug war, said half of the police operations covered by the review “failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene.”
He noted the assertion made by the Philippine National Police that many drug suspects were killed because they “resisted arrest or attempted to draw a weapon and fight back.”
“Yet, no full examination of the weapon recovered was conducted. No verification of its ownership was undertaken. No request for ballistic examination or paraffin test was pursued until its completion,” Guevarra said.
But he assured the council that the appropriate state agencies had been tackling the report’s findings and that a number of policemen had been recommended for prosecution.
“It is now the immediate task of the review panel to ensure that these recommendations have been acted upon and carried out by the proper disciplinarian authorities, and that measures are adopted to minimize loss of lives during legitimate law-enforcement operations against illegal drugs,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra made the presentation at the 46th regular session of the UNHRC, which opened on Feb. 22 and will close on March 23.
The council holds at least three regular sessions each year to assess the human rights situation in the United Nations’ member-states.
Reacting to the report, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia said it “dodge[d] the fundamental and more crucial question: Why did these extrajudicial killings (EJKs) happen in the first place and why are they continuing with impunity?”
He said the report “wittingly or unwittingly diverts the primary and sole blame on lowly police operatives while insulating and saving the principal enablers of the EJKs.”
It was President Duterte and other top officials who “goaded, tolerated, sanctioned, condoned and justified the EJKs,” he said.
“More than the elegant rhetoric and apparently smokescreen findings, the government report must be matched with concrete and measurable effective remedies or accountability mechanisms for the victims,” he said.
Don’t be fooled
Butch Olano, section director of Amnesty International-Philippines, said the Philippine report was surprising to a degree and filled with “astounding contradictions.”
“While asserting that the country’s legal and judicial systems are functioning as they should, [Guevarra] openly admitted that the PNP failed to process crime scenes and had not examined weapons that were allegedly used by [drug]suspects, nor carry out other basic protocols in antidrug operations in the past four years.”
Phil Robertson, the deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that “at best, the justice secretary’s statement… shows both the Department of Justice and senior police were asleep at the switch as the drug war killings accelerated and intensified.”
HRW-Geneva director John Fisher said “the justice secretary tried to show that their findings are proof of what he called ‘functioning accountability mechanisms.”
“Concerned governments should not be fooled by this unconvincing attempt to head off a Human Rights Council investigation,” Fisher added.
For Malacañang, the report of the Guevarra-led review panel “attests to the vitality of the national accountability processes in the country, which uphold peace, justice and human rights as interrelated pursuits.”
“[This] is proof to the whole world that contrary to the claims of our critics domestically and internationally, we are in discharge of our state obligation to investigate and prosecute violations of the right to life,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
“[This is] because we face the truth that it is possible that there are some law enforcers who need to be made accountable under our laws here in the Philippines,” Roque added. —WITH A REPORT FROM JEROME ANING
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