Philippines to UN rights council: Panel to look into deaths in anti-drug operations

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 30, 2020 - 5:54pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:30 p.m.) — The Philippine government has created an inter-agency panel to investigate killings under its brutal drug war nearly four years into the Duterte administration, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Guevarra said that an inter-agency panel, chaired by the Department of Justice, has been formed to conduct “a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred.”

Human rights groups have estimated drug war deaths at four times the number acknowledged by the government.

In his statement, the DOJ secretary said that the Philippine National Police is “obliged by its internal mechanism” to automatically conduct a probe into operations with deaths involved, even if no complainant has come forward.

The justice chief delivered the Philippine government’s statement on the UN High Commissioner’s presentation of the Philippines report.

The panel, external to the PNP, also intends to engage the affected families and provide with with “legal options and assistance in criminal prosecutions of law enforcers who have overstepped legal bounds in the operations.”

The inter-agency panel will present a report by the end of November 2020, Guevarra added.

Duterte government rejects impunity tag

Guevarra also told the UN panel that claims of impunity has “no anchor in a system that provides every avenue to examine, establish and pursue a claim of wrongdoing by a State actor, if such claim is substantiated with facts.”

The justice secretary called on “human rights mechanisms” to “exercise due diligence in validating allegations brought before them by parties.”

Guevarra went on to say the independence of Philippine courts has been shown in the conviction of retired Army general Jovito Palparan as well as the conviction of members of the Ampatuan clan over the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre in 2009.

Both cases emanated from incidents that happened before the Duterte administration.

He also mentioned the indictment of a former police chief in January 2020. Guevarra was referring to state prosecutors recommending graft charges against former police general Oscar Albayalde over alleged irregularities in a drug raid in Pampanga province in 2013.

To note, the Duterte and his men are are being accused of committing crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court. The ICC can only act if national courts “have been found unable or unwilling to try a case.”

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda previously said that her office aims to finalize its preliminary examination into the Philippines in 2020.

Inter-agency panel

Justice Undesecretary Markk Perete said in a separate message to reporters that the inter-agency review panel started its work in February 2020.

"Since then, we have ironed out logistical and other requirements for it to function, including the sharing of data and case files by, among others, the [Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency] and the PNP," Perete, also DOJ's spokesperson, added.

Other offices part of the panel are the Presidential Communications Office, the deparments of Interior and Local Government, and of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, the Presidential Management Staff, the Dangerous Drugs Board, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation.

Perete said that the inter-agency panel was created as part of the government’s RealNumbers Project which started in 2018. The Real Numbers campaign used to publish monthly updates on the drug war but the updates have since become few and far between.

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