Kin of drug war victims being pressured to sign ‘waivers’
MANILA, Philippines — As lawmakers debate whether the Philippine government should consider cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC) as it looks into the country’s drug war, families of victims of that bloody campaign are being pressured by police to waive their right to pursue charges against them.
Philippine Human Rights Information Center (Philrights) is one of several groups helping mothers and widows of the victims build a case before the ICC against former President Rodrigo Duterte and other principals in his drug war.
In July, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber rejected an appeal by the Philippine government to stop its investigation, thus setting the stage for a possible trial of the enforcers behind the drug war, notably Duterte and his chief of police at the start of that campaign, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
‘One less headache’
But according to Philrights, families of the victims in at least 21 cases were pressured by law enforcement agents to sign waivers relinquishing their right to file charges against those officers.
At least half of them caved in because they were pressured, misled or subjected once again to trauma, Philrights said.
Such was the experience of Inday, whose son Kiko was killed during an antidrug operation in 2016, or so a police report claimed. (Their names and those of other drug war victims and their families were changed for their protection.) But according to the family, there was no such police operation—they had been sleeping in a bedroom that they all shared when plainclothesmen barged into the room and shot Kiko while he was asleep.
It took years for Inday to get over that episode. But early this year, police suddenly arrived at her doorstep asking her to sign an affidavit rescinding her right to pursue charges.
‘Up to God’
Part of the waiver, which was shown to the Inquirer, said that “since it has been a long time since the killing of my son and because we don’t know who are the perpetrators, and because nobody is willing to testify for the case, we are leaving it up to God and we have lost all hope and are no longer interested in pursuing the perpetrators.”
Inday said police pressured her to sign “so that this whole thing goes away and you will have one less headache.” So she signed the waiver with no hope that she would see her son’s killers again.
A community organizer for Philrights who also requested anonymity said there were at least five instances of police pressure against those families, most of whom live in cities north of Metro Manila, a hot spot at the height of Duterte’s drug war.
But only two relatives of the fallen, including Inday, relented to signing waivers. The other case involved a mother who had refused to sign, until police coerced a sibling of hers into signing a blank piece of paper.
Philrights executive director Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan said the group is “extremely concerned about these complaints, especially because all the families that were approached are involved in the ICC case.”
Some of them, she said, were also afraid of being “used” by politicking—being lured into empty promises of “cooperation” without actual commitments from the government.
“If the Marcos administration is really interested in returning to the ICC and is really open to the investigation by ICC probers, there has to be a firm and consistent position, [which] can only be shown by actually mobilizing the various institutions under government … to provide assistance and support to the ICC [and to] the families that have filed complaints and cases against the Duterte government,” Simbulan said.
For mothers like Maria, the path toward healing remains inextricably linked to accountability and the pursuit of truth.
‘Not with them’
In 2017, her son Jobert was gunned down while he was on an errand at a public market. The people there told Maria that Jobert’s killers were policemen, but she could not prove it.
“Some people were telling me—the police targeted your son because of his cases,” she said, referring to the drug charges filed against Jobert in 2016. He had been detained for some time before the charges were dismissed, and was shot dead a few weeks after his release. Maria said she tried to seek justice for his son. “But nothing happened. From his death to his burial, I asked for help from the police but I couldn’t get anything: no CCTV, no evidence, no witnesses. So I gave up having to deal with the police and sought help from Philrights instead.”
In 2022, plainclothesmen suddenly came looking for Maria to ask about her son’s case and whether she was still interested in pursuing charges.
Visiting her for the third time, police told her outright that they would bring her the next morning to the station to sign a waiver.
“But in all these visits, I made it clear to them that I was not interested in pursuing a case, at least not with them anymore,” Maria said. “What was the point? If they were really interested in helping me, they should have done so in 2017, not six years later.”
According to Maria, it also helped that many of the mothers approached by police were briefed by Philrights about how to protect themselves from harassment and coercion.
“If they had come to me before, when I didn’t know better, I might not have given in,” she said. “But now I know my rights and I know what to stand for …. I did not, for once, consider signing anything they gave me.” Not all is lost for those who gave in to police pressure. Philrights’ unnamed community organizer said “many of the waivers just involve charges filed locally. So even if the mothers were forced to sign these waivers, I can assure [them] that they could still continue their engagement with the ICC.”
Philrights urges families dealing with harassment to report such cases to the group or to sign “with dissent”—annotating their signature in that manner to indicate that their signing was under duress.
Maria said her resistance stands for something greater. “I’m doing this not even to seek justice for my satisfaction, but because I want everyone else to achieve justice,” she said. “I am praying for collective justice, so that all mothers like me will eventually find peace.”