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Philippines urged to condemn, investigate extrajudicial killings

Police crime scene investigators under Jones Bridge in Binondo, Manila after police shot dead suspected drug dealers Cyril Raymundo, Eduardo Aquino and Edgar Cumbis in a “buy-bust” operation. December 5, 2016. Human Rights Watch/Carlo Gabuco
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government should denounce extrajudicial killings and have them investigated while temporarily suspending buy-bust operations that can lead to unlawful deaths, international watchdog Human Rights Watch said in a new report.
 
These were HRW's recommendations to President Rodrigo Duterte, the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police to address a rise in extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
 
According to the HRW report 'License to Kill', President Duterte, the DOJ and the PNP may be held responsible for instigating and committing unlawful acts against the citizens of the Philippines.
 
"International law holds an individual criminally responsible if they plan, instigate, order commit or otherwise aid and abet a criminal offense. Instigating means prompting another to commit an offense that is actually committed," HRW said in its report.
 

Denounce extrajudicial killings

HRW said the president should publicly denounce the extrajudicial killings that have been linked to the government's war on drugs.
 
The Palace as well as Duterte himself have more than once denied that the the state sanctions the killings of drug suspects but have stressed that police and military personnel are authorized to use force in self-defense. More than 2,500 deaths have been attributed to drug suspects shooting it out with the police. 
 
Duterte has frequently said, however, that those who deal drugs will die and that the last drug pusher and drug lord have been arrested or killed.
 
HRW also pointed out how President Duterte has backed the police and has promised to protect them for carrying out the anti-drug campaign. Superintendent Marvin Marcos, a senior police officer implicated in the death of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in government custody last November was relieved and then reinstated on the same day.
 
The human rights group also called on the president order investigations into possible abuses in the drug war.
 
PNP Director General Ronald Dela Rosa has in the past said that investigations would "dampen the morale" of the officers, while Solicitor General Jose Calida has reiterated his support for the war on drugs.
 
"I am here to encourage the PNP not to be afraid of any congressional or Senate investigations. We will defend them [the police]. If there is a 'fiscalizer,' I am the neutralizer and the defender of the PNP," Calida said in July 2016.
 
"As noted, since Duterte has taken office, not a single police officer has been arrested let alone prosecuted for their role in an alleged extrajudicial killing of a drug suspect," HRW said.
 
The group also asked Duterte to direct the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct inquiries and publicly report any involvement of the PNP in unlawful killings.
 
The HRW also asked the president to allow the United Nations special rapporteur and other UN experts to investigate the extrajudicial killings without interference or restrictions.
 

Investigate alleged extrajudicial killings

 
HRW meanwhile recommended that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II direct the National Bureau of Investigation to "impartially and transparently" investigate and prosecute alleged extrajudicial killings and other abuses during anti-drug operations.
 
The group also suggested the creation of hotlines to receive information on alleged killings and to direct the NBI to make full use of the Witness Protection, Security, and Benefit Act to ensure the safety of witnesses and of families of victims of unlawful killings.
 
HRW added that the DOJ should adopt measures or mechanisms for the victims and families to file a complaint or offer testimonies safely with due process by allowing them to do so by live videos or in courtrooms closed to the public.

Suspend buy-bust operations

The HRW also called on the PNP to temporarily suspend buy-bust operations until measures to prevent unlawful killings and abuses are in place.
 
Several relatives of those killed told HRW that those killed were described as dealers attempting to sell to undercover officers conducting the operations even if they did not sell drugs.
 
HRW, citing reports and witness accounts, said some of the buy-bust operations may not have happened since police officers knocked down doors before the supposed shootouts. The group notes that one witness even told the group that a police officer was seen planting evidence in one of their operations.
 
The group also called for the proper preservation of evidence from drug-related deaths as well as an independent inspection of the collected evidence.
 
The group also asked the PNP to list those killed in police operations and those supposedly murdered by vigilante killings separately. HRW, in its report, said that it could not find any distinction in the cases investigated.
 
The Philippine National Police already tallies those who are supposedly killed in shootouts separately from "deaths under investigation."
 
"In several cases we investigated, the police dismissed allegations of involvement and instead classified such killings as “found bodies” or “deaths under investigation” when only hours before the suspects had been in police custody," HRW said.
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