MANILA, Philippines - The US government has urged the Duterte administration to pursue investigations of extrajudicial killings in the government’s war on illegal drugs “whether they’re committed by law enforcement or of a vigilante nature.”
Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, told a press briefing that the growing number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines is “troubling.”
While it recognized the country’s “serious challenge” with illicit narcotics, the US government has “very sustained and deep concern when elements of the drug war are operating outside the rule of law,” he said.
“We are urging the Philippines to follow up on its commitment to investigate extrajudicial killings, whether they’re committed by law enforcement or of a vigilante nature. So I think those concerns are quite sustained,” Murphy said.
He said the US government is willing to support the Philippines on its drug rehabilitation program.
According to a Reuters report, more than 8,000 people, mostly petty drug users and dealers, have been killed in the administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign since President Duterte took office on June 30 last year.
Police said about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two-thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. The government and police reject that.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philippines shared the concern of the US and said authorities “follow operational protocols” and those who breached procedures were made to answer before the law.
“We expect fairness and not a rush to judgment,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella said persistent news report about close to 9,000 people being killed in the drug war “is false news.”
From July until March 24, Abella said police recorded more than 6,000 people had been killed, classified as cases under investigation, but only 1,398 of the deaths were found to be drug-related.
Abella’s figure did not include more than 2,600 people killed in police operations.
In reaction to Murphy’s statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the government is not setting aside allegations of extrajudicial killings in the administration’s war on drugs.
“The government has been firm in its condemnation of extrajudicial judicial killings,” DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said.
“The President himself already called for an investigation and prosecution of those involved in such killings,” he said.
Bolivar maintained the administration’s illegal drug campaign is waged with firm adherence to the country’s established human rights principles and in accordance with the rule of law.
Duterte was infuriated by US expressions of concern about extrajudicial killings after he took office last year and threatened to sever the long-standing US defense alliance.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), however, declined to comment on the Reuters report.
Asked if the commission has gathered similar reports in the course of their investigation, CHR commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana said she could not issue a statement as their probe is still ongoing.
“I will not for the moment make a categorical statement on whether or not there have been such allegations since our investigation is still ongoing,” Gana said in a text message to The STAR.
Gana is leading a task force in charge of investigating whether there are human rights violations committed in relation to the death of suspected drug suspects during police operations.
The investigation is currently covering over 800 deaths, including both those who died in police operations and victims of alleged vigilante killings.
On Tuesday, Reuters released a report quoting two police officials who claimed that members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) have orchestrated the killings.
The report said police officers received rewards for killing suspected drug pushers.
The findings echoed those made by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which linked the Duterte administration to the killings.
CHR chairman Chito Gascon confirmed receiving a copy of the Reuters report and said they are looking into the allegations.
“We should do all we can to follow any lead that could ultimately shed light on these killings with the view to ultimately holding the perpetrators accountable,” he was quoted as saying.
The PNP has denied the allegations and dared the unnamed sources in the Reuters report to come out.
“They should man up and not hide behind a white cloth. They are former and current members of the organization,” PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said on Wednesday.
“There’s no such order or instructions coming from the leadership,” he added.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa described the Reuters report as a creation of the foreign media, saying the two anonymous police officers should come out in the open.
He lamented the PNP has to defend itself from accusations coming from anonymous sources.
He called the two supposed police officers as cowards for going to the press instead of airing their grievances in the proper forum.
Dela Rosa said Washington should just allow them to do their job in carrying out President Duterte’s mandate of wiping out illegal drugs and criminality.
He said he is fed up with commenting on what he described as a “recurring issue.”
“I’m already tired answering that. Just tell them I don’t work for them, I work for the Filipino people so I don’t have to be distracted by their comments,” Dela Rosa said.
Despite President Duterte’s repeated statements threatening to kill drug pushers, Gana last month said they have yet to find evidence that would prove the summary killings are state-sponsored.
She later clarified that they are not ruling out anything, as their investigation is still ongoing. – With Janvic Mateo, Emmanuel Tupas, Alexis Romero, Reuters