PH’s ‘bloodiest killing field’ not on DOJ list of drug campaign killings
MANILA, Philippines—Bulacan in 2017 saw what is now being described as the “single bloodiest day” in the Duterte administration’s campaign against drugs—32 drug suspects killed by police in just one day.
But on Wednesday (Oct. 20), as the Department of Justice (DOJ) released details of its review of killings in connection with the anti-drug campaign, not a single case of killing in Bulacan since 2016 had been cited.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, said many of the cases listed on the DOJ review were those that took place in the Calabarzon and Caraga regions with only two cases cited in Metro Manila. None was cited in Bulacan province which saw a series of “one time, big time operations” against drugs that led to the killing of suspects.
Kristina Conti, a lawyer for the Public Interest Law Center, shared the sentiments of Palabay, saying the DOJ review did not even include cases in places where “concentrated killings” took place, like Manila and Quezon City.
Details released by the DOJ showed that out of the 52 cases it initially reviewed, most happened in Calabarzon (27), Caraga (9), Cagayan Valley (4), Zamboanga Peninsula (1), Metro Manila (2), Northern Mindanao (2), Ilocos (1), Mimaropa (1), Bicol (1), Davao (1), and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (1).
In 2019, Amnesty International (AI), which regarded Bulacan as the Philippines’ “bloodiest killing field,” said 827 individuals with alleged links to illegal drugs were killed in the province between July 2016 and February 2019.
When police said 32 were killed in only one day, President Rodrigo Duterte hailed the operation, saying “that’s good, if we could only kill 32 more every day, then maybe we could lessen what ails the Philippines.”
The AI, in 2019, said that over the past 18 months, police chiefs who led “abusive operations” in Metro Manila had been reassigned to Bulacan. These included Senior Supt. Chito Bersaluna, head of the Caloocan City police at the time of the killing of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos in a mistaken identity case.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), in 2018, said that 542 drug suspects were killed in various police operations in Central Luzon, including Bulacan, higher than the 285 drug suspects killed in Metro Manila.
Here’s a list of the “bloodiest days” in the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs since 2016:
- Aug. 20, 2016
In Angeles City, Pampanga province, seven individuals allegedly linked to illegal drugs were killed in “shootouts and encounters” with the police and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
- Aug. 15, 2017
Police in Bulacan province killed 32 and arrested 107 drug suspects in only 24 hours – Aug. 15 to Aug. 16 – to continue its “relentless drive against illegal drugs, loose firearms, and implementation of search warrants.”
Senior Supt. Romeo Caramat Jr., chief of the Bulacan police, said those killed “are the notorious who would rather fight than be arrested alive.” Back then, the PNP said the Internal Affairs Service (IAS) would investigate.
- Aug. 17, 2017
In Manila, 26 individuals with alleged links to illegal drugs were killed in “one time, big time” simultaneous police operations in the midst of the government’s escalated crackdown on crimes.
- March 20, 2018
In one day, 13 were killed and 109 were arrested – all with alleged links to illegal drugs – in Bulacan province as the police said they were “continuously and relentlessly implementing their intensified campaign against illegal drugs.”
The killings happened days after the President took steps to remove the Philippines from membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC). In February, the ICC started a preliminary inquiry into the government’s bloody crackdown against illegal drugs, but Palace officials said it would withdraw Philippine membership in the judicial body.
- April 20, 2018
The police killed 13 and arrested 50 drug suspects in simultaneous operations in Bulacan province. The killings transpired a day after then Director General Oscar Albayalde took his post as the head of the PNP, saying that he will continue the war on illegal drugs.
Albayalde said he liked the momentum and gains of the campaign. The PNP also said the 13 deaths were a “clear indication that members of syndicates are fierce and are ready to engage in a fight against the law enforcers.”
- May 30, 2018
In seven hours on this day, the police said that in Bulacan, they killed eight and arrested 27 drug suspects in simultaneous police operations meant to rid the province of narcotics and crimes.
- March 3, 2019
The police, in simultaneous operations in Bulacan, killed eight individuals, most with alleged links to illegal drugs, after the President directed them to make the war on narcotics “harsher.”
Bersaluna said those killed resisted arrest and fired at police while police were conducting “buy-bust” operations in Bulacan, specifically the towns of San Rafael, Baliuag, Sta. Maria, Pandi, and San Jose del Monte.
While Conti said that the review was a “start,” she emphasized that it was “obviously, underwhelming and dissatisfying, least of all to the victims of the ‘war on drugs’” because “there are many things about the premise that made this so.”
“First, the DOJ only had access to police records, which were those lodged in the IAS. Second, these cases were already sifted, perhaps cherry picked,” said Conti.
“Thus, the DOJ review turned out to be a re-review or recap of IAS/administrative cases,” she said.
In September, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said 6,191 individuals were killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2021. Also, 307,521 people with alleged links to illegal drugs were arrested.
“As it is, the DOJ review is not basis for outright filing of criminal charges, nor was it case-building in the truest sense,” said Conti.
“It was a paper investigation, and only after it are they informing victims and calling for witnesses, which really takes the prosecution process back to square one,” she said.
“But it is a start, and a government agency admitting and putting on record all these errors will be damning in the end. We hope that ultimately, the report as a measure of accountability will help stop the killings,” added Conti.
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