'Drug war' deaths rise amid coronavirus pandemic — int'l rights monitor

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
'Drug war' deaths rise amid coronavirus pandemic â int'l rights monitor
Latest data from the government’s RealNumbersPH platform showed that a total of 5,810 people were killed in alleging shootouts with law enforcers waging President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.
AFP / Noel Celis, File

MANILA, Philippines — Extrajudicial killings linked to the Duterte administration's flagship anti-drug campaign were not only unhampered by the coronavirus-induced lockdowns—they also increased dramatically, a human rights watchdog found. 

In a release published Wednesday morning, Asia division researcher Carlos Conde of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the national government's own statistics showed that cops killed 50% more people from April to July 2020 than they did in the last four-month period.

"Human Rights Watch analyzed the government’s statistics and found 155 persons were killed in the past four months. Before the Covid-19 crisis, police killed 103 persons from December 2019 to March 2020...The number of fatalities in these ostensible drug enforcement raids, in which the police routinely claimed that the victims fought back, jumped dramatically from the 26 deaths recorded by the PDEA in five months from July to November 2019," Conde wrote.

"The government is expected to continue to deny the allegations rather than offer a constructive response. But as the government’s own statistics show, the atrocities in the “drug war” have worsened, even as the country suffers the worst in the region from the pandemic," he also said. 

The international rights monitor already pointed this out earlier in late May when it said that the nightly killings continued amid the community quarantines, which made it harder for them to be documented under strict police enforcement. 

Although Police Gen. Camilo Cascolan, the newest chief of the Philippine National Police, has denied that EJKs ever occurred, he also said police officers also died during anti-drug operations. The PNP's own data recognizes 5,810 persons killed in these operations as of the end of July 2020, although police routinely parrot the narrative that drug suspects fought back violently and forced their hand. 

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

However, Conde pointed out that "thousands of other drug suspects have been killed by unidentified assailants, many of whom are believed to be plainclothes police officers or vigilantes operating in coordination with local authorities."

In June, for instance, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 8,600 people have died in Duterte’s “drug war,” while other rights organizations in the Philippines estimate that the number could even be as high as 30,000. 

Yet, only one case has resulted in a conviction. 

On Tuesday, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director also of the Human Rights Watch, slammed Cascolan's denial of the well-documented killings and challenged the PNP to hand investigating bodies full access to its records if it really did not have anything to hide. 

"Numerous victims, their families, and witnesses have repeatedly pointed out police misconduct during drug raids where police not only illegally killed suspects but manufactured and planted bogus evidence, such as guns, to claim that victims were armed when they were killed," he said. 

"Instead of burying his head in the sand in this cynical and self-interested attempt to evade accountability, Cascolan should ensure that the PNP fully cooperates with investigating bodies."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 20, 2021 - 10:22am

Reuters wins Pulitzers, the most prestigious awards in American journalism, in international reporting for its story on the methods of police killing squads in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and for feature photography documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In covering the deadly drug war in the Philippines, Reuters reporters Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall and Manuel Mogato "demonstrated how police in the president’s 'drug war' have killed with impunity and consistently been shielded from prosecution," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler says.

October 20, 2021 - 10:22am

Th Department of Justice releases information on the 52 drug war cases it reviews based on police records.

Since 2016, no criminal complaint has been filed.

The DOJ notes that the cases are to undergo further investigation for possible filing of criminal charges against erring police officers.

February 28, 2021 - 1:29pm

The bloody shootout between the police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Quezon City last Wednesday should speed up implementation of better monitoring of law enforcement operations, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto says.

Recto says law enforcers should have bodycams as well as dashboard cams in their vehicles.

“It is again a bloody reminder of a missing but vital equipment in policing—video recording devices, especially during operations,” Recto says.

Recto says in a release that he sponsored with then Sen. JV Ejercito a P5.4-billion allocation in the 2017 national budget for new police equipment, including body cameras, "but it took four years and five PNP chiefs to buy some 2,600 pieces."

February 25, 2021 - 4:42pm

Heads of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Philippine National Police vow thorough probe into the shootout along Commonweatlh Avenue on Wednesday night.

They say they will defer to the findings of the joint Board of Inquiry formed to investigate the incident, where three law enforcement personnel were killed.

PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva says he cannot yet give operational details, saying those are still subject to investigation.

Police Gen. Debold Sinas says findings will be made public as soon as these are available.

February 25, 2021 - 1:04pm

Sen. Risa Hontiveros says she will call for a Senate investigation into the shootoout between Quezon City police officers and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency personnel in an anti-drug operation.

"We need to look into this further. It is very alarming that this is not the first time that such a ‘misencounter’ has happened. The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) did admit that this has happened numerous times. These ‘misencounters’ should be rare, not common," Hontiveros says.

According to initial reports, the police conducted a buy-bust operation but did not know they were transacting with PDEA personnel.

"How could this have happened, at all, in the first place? Why did the shootout take place for as long as an hour? Hindi ba pwedeng magkalinawan, even within the first few minutes, that a misencounter breaks out?" Hontiveros adds.

February 24, 2021 - 9:12pm

Ever Commonwealth mall management confirms that there was a shootout outside the mall on Wednesday.

"We have secured all access to the mall so all shoppers are safe inside," it says.

"Our priority right now is to ensure the safety of the employees and public."

It adds management is coordinating with the Philippine National Police on the situation.

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