Despite police claims, drug war killings continue amid COVID-19 lockdown — int'l rights monitor

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Despite police claims, drug war killings continue amid COVID-19 lockdown â int'l rights monitor
This photo shows a memorial with the names of the victims of extra-judicial killings.
Release / Karapatan

MANILA, Philippines — An international rights watchdog Wednesday said that despite the quarantine caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak, the vigilante-style summary executions linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against illegal narcotics remained constant. 

Speaking at a virtual news conference for the release of a report by the Human Rights Watch on the children left behind by the drug war, HRW researcher Carlos Conde said that the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic—which has since eclipsed two months—did little to affect the so-called drug war.

With most of Metro Manila stuck indoors, the nightly killings linked to illegal drugs continued, he said.

"It's the same killings we've seen before the pandemic. Authorities can do whatever they want under the cover of COVID [because of] fewer witnesses," he said. 

Worse, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult to report on the killings.

"Because of the lockdown, journalists have limited access, and they are at the mercy of authorities...Our fear is that it's going to worsen," he said. 

Rights groups have long rallied against the flagship anti-drug campaign of the Duterte administration, with local and international activists placing the death toll as high as 27,000.

According to a primer available on the Philippine National Police website, only 5,281 "drug personalities" have been killed in anti-drug operations.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for HRW said that the administration was clearly attempting to flatten the numbers to evade international pressure. 

"Even if we rely on government data, that's still a considerable amount," Conde said. 

'Unrelenting as ever'

The chief of the Philippine National Police said Tuesday that anti-narcotics operations would not be slowing down even as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, a statement issued on what would have been the 20th birthday of the teenage boy murdered during a law enforcement operation and who authorities initially accused of being a "runner" for drug syndicates.

As it stands, the national police are the lead of task force enforcing quarantine rules and contact tracing, both of which have had clear lapses of their own.

VERA Files in a report carried by Philstar.com Sunday logged 53 drug-related killings since the announcement of enhanced community quarantine on March 15, though they were careful to note that not all of the killings were linked to police operations.

Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas—the Metro Manila police chief facing criminal and administrative cases for throwing a party mid-quarantine, and who has so far stayed in his position—said earlier that Oplan Tokhang would be suspended in order to put more focus on the quarantine.

“Oplan Tokhang is out for now. We [are] momentarily silent on that because the focus right now is on quarantine,” Sinas said in Filipino at a press conference.

"We'll let them be for now. If you're inside, you won't get any supply. Supposedly they'll be in their houses anyway. We don't want to contribute to the outrage of the people first," he added. 

READ: Oplan Tokhang suspended due to COVID-19 quarantine

On the same day that the rights group's report was released, the Quezon City Police District reported four separate buy-bust operations that yielded six arrests. 

Human Rights Watch in its report recommended that the administration "investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators, including law enforcement personnel, credibly implicated in extrajudicial killings and other abuses committed during the Duterte government’s “war on drugs.”

“Filipino children have suffered horribly from President Duterte’s decision to unleash the police and their hitmen against suspected drug users,” said Conde. 

“The government needs to stop this endless violence that is upending children’s lives and direct assistance to the children harmed,” he added.




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