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Lawmakers urge new probes of deadly drug war

HEAVENS CRYING OUT FOR JUSTICE? A message of support hangs outside the Fatima Chapel in Barangay 160 in Caloocan City. —LYN RILLON

Senators and opposition House members have called for separate investigations of the surge in the killings of suspected drug offenders which generated widespread outrage, particularly over the death of a 17-year-old Grade 12 student, in what appears to be an intensification of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Saturday, however, said an independent fact-finding commission composed of retired justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals who are “of proven probity” was preferable and urged the President to create one soon.

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Lagman said the Philippine National Police “cannot be entrusted” with the investigation because officers were involved and the Department of Justice is headed by “a partisan ally” of Mr. Duterte.

The inquiry must not be left to politicians “whose motives could be suspect despite their avowal of impartiality,” he added.

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Lagman said such a fact-finding commission had precedents. A commission was created to investigate the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, another to investigate the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and one to probe human rights violations and extrajudicial killings under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006.

He said the commission would look into the causes, motives and rewards for extrajudicial killings, and establish the total number of victims, especially those who belong to poor and vulnerable sectors.

It would also determine the links between police authorities and vigilantes.

It would also recommend the prosecution of officers and private parties found responsible for extrajudicial killings and recommend policies and alternatives to solve the drug problem, which Lagman said, was largely a poverty and health issue.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said he would initiate an investigation following public outrage over the rising death toll, which included Grade 12 student Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was killed by the police in Caloocan City on Wednesday.

“A lot of senators are calling for an investigation,” Pimentel said in a radio interview on Saturday. “There is also public demand that these killings be looked into on a higher level so we will do it.”

Review police protocols

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He said senators would scrutinize specific drug-related killings regardless of the age of the victims and the circumstances of their deaths. They would also review police protocols and manual of rules.

“We will go through the case folders one by one to show to the police that we are really serious in monitoring their actions,” he said.

“We will look at the details because we cannot just accept that these cases are stamped as deaths because the victims fired back or resisted,” he said.

He was referring to the justification often cited by the police in killing suspected drug offenders and other criminals, the same excuse the Caloocan police officers used in shooting the Grade 12 student.

The Senate majority bloc is scheduled to discuss the matter in a meeting on Sunday ahead of the all-senators caucus that Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV had called for on Tuesday, Pimentel said.

Unlike their Senate counterparts, lawmakers belonging to the “supermajority” in the House of Representatives who are known defenders of the President’s war on drugs have been quiet amid public outcry over the Caloocan boy’s killing.

‘Silence is disturbing’

“The silence of the House of Representatives is disturbing,” said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a member of the “Magnificent Seven” independent bloc.

He called on his fellow House members to open an inquiry into the escalating death toll, especially the boy’s killing.

Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice said the “spate of killings not only in my city is very alarming that it has now become a responsibility of everyone to speak out.”

At least 80 people have been killed by the police in separate antidrug operations this week in Metro Manila and Bulacan province, including 24 in Caloocan City.

National Capital Region police chief, Director Oscar Albayalde, on Saturday ordered the Caloocan police chief, Senior Supt. Chito Bersaluna, relieved of duty a day after three officers and their superior were removed from their posts pending an investigation of the boy’s killing.

Erice said the police had been “terrorizing communities by violating each and every provision of the rules of

engagement.”

Police said they found a .45 caliber pistol, ammunition and sachets of “shabu” near the boy’s body. —With reports from Krixia Subingsubing and the wires

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TAGS: Edcel Lagman, Edgar Erice, extrajudicial killings, Kian Loyd delos Santos, Oscar Albayalde, Rodrigo Duterte, Teddy Baguilat, war on drugs
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