DRUG WAR. Police conduct ‘Oplan Tokhang’ – a house-to-house campaign to make drug suspects ‘surrender’ – at an informal settlers community in Manila on October 6, 2016. File photo by Noel Celis/AFP
MANILA, Philippines – Would you really want to be mentioned in the same breath as North Korea and Syria?
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) official posed this question to the Philippine government as he urged the Duterte administration to understand “that there will be consequences” for the high death toll in its drug war.
“There’s a human rights commission meeting which is starting next week and the Philippines will be high on the agenda. The Philippines will be on the same category as North Korea and Syria and governments like that,” HRW Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert told Rappler, as HRW launched a report on the role of Philippine police in the killing of drug suspects.
Bouckaert added: “So do you really want to go from one of the most vibrant civil societies in Asia to being in a category with those kinds of criminals? But that’s the future and that’s the risk.”
The New York-based organization said in its report released on Thursday, March 2, that Philippine police were responsible for extrajudicial killings linked to the drug war. It also noted that police planted evidence and faked post-operation reports to justify the killing of suspects allegedly in the conduct of police operations.
“There is a tremendous interest at the level of the international community at what’s happening in the Philippines. And the Philippine government needs to understand that their problems with the international community will not go away unless these killings stop,” said Bouckaert.
Bouckaert is a veteran of fact-finding missions to Lebanon, Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Macedonia, Indonesia, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.
In its report, HRW urged Philippine officials to suspend “buy-bust” operations, which are allegedly used as a cover-up for extrajudicial killings. They also called on different government agencies to investigate allegations of killings committed by police themselves.
President Rodrigo Duterte had suspended all police anti-illegal drugs operations after the death of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo made headlines at home and abroad. Police belonging to the anti-illegal drugs group kidnapped and killed Jee inside Camp Crame, the national police headquarters.
The suspension of the police’s anti-drug campaign was short-lived. After 4 weeks, or a few days before HRW report was released, Duterte allowed the return of police to the drug war.
HRW also called on the Philippines’ foreign donors to withhold “any financial assistance, training programs, weapons sales, and capacity-building programs with the Philippine National Police” until the drug war is fully suspended and investigations begin.
It also the made the following recommendations to foreign donors, including the United States, the European Union, Japan, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank:
- Press the Duterte administration to renounce extrajudicial executions by state security forces and initiate impartial investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings
- Revoke technical, financial, and other assistance to any security forces implicated in widespread or systematic abuses and for which the government has not sought to hold those responsible to account
- Publicly criticize statements by Philippine government officials, including Duterte, that appear to support extrajudicial executions and other unlawful crime control measures
- Support domestic nongovernmental organizations that provide legal or other services to families of victims of extrajudicial killings by the security forces, and those that provide rehabilitative programs to drug users, including children
- Offer to provide support for international law enforcement assistance with investigations into alleged human rights violations
- Fund and encourage programs, including pilot programs, emphasizing best international practices in public health approaches to drug use
HRW also called on the US, a long-time ally of Philippine police, to make the following adjustments:
- Impose a moratorium on planned and future weapons sales to the PNP until the abusive anti-drug campaign ends and meaningful actions are taken to investigate and prosecute those responsible
- The US-led Millennium Challenge Corporation should continue to defer grants to the Philippines on grounds relating to the rule of law and respect for civil liberties, first announced in December 2016, until the Duterte administration ends its abusive anti-drug campaign and takes action to meaningfully investigate those responsible
- The State Department and Department of Defence should continue to vigorously vet all members of the PNP and other Philippine government officials who are involved in US training or joint US-Philippines law enforcement or military operations for possible involvement in gross human rights violations, both as legally required under the Leahy Law and as a matter of policy so that the US is not complicit in serious abuses
- The US State Department should ensure that Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)-funded training to PNP units neither encourages nor incentivizes high numbers of arrests for drug possession and instead emphasizes that arrest numbers are not a valid measure of law enforcement performance
- The US military should reduce direct assistance to and cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines if the Philippine government deploys AFP units to the anti-drug campaign and there are credible allegations that AFP personnel are committing unlawful killings with impunity
The Duterte administration has been largely dismissive of the HRW probe, calling it “thoughtless and irresponsible.” Hours after the report was released, Duterte said in a public event that there will be “more killings” in his drug war.
It’s a response HRW expected. After all, Duterte, a long-time mayor of Davao City, is known for his tirades against foreign government, organizations, and even world leaders who criticize his vaunted anti-crime campaign.
“We know exactly what the response of the Filipino authorities will be. They will say that we are a bunch of foreigners trying to meddle in the affairs of the Philippines. Well, we’ve been investigating the drug war for the last 20 years. We were here during martial law. We’ve been protecting the rights of the people of the Philippines for all that time and we will continue to do so under Duterte,” said Bouckaert.
He said HRW usually provides advance copies of its reports to concerned governments, which are asked to respond “because we’re interested in having a dialogue.” This, however, was not the case in its report on the Philippines under the Duterte administration.
“We only do that when we think the government is genuinely interested in telling the truth. And in the case of the Philippines, the government right now…we don’t think it is possible to have that kind of dialogue,” Bouckaert told Rappler. – Rappler.com