PNP failed to follow protocols in many drug operations, Guevarra tells UN rights body

PNP failed to follow protocols in many drug operations, Guevarra tells UN rights body
This photo shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 24, 2021
Facebook / Human Rights Watch

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday told members of the UN Human Rights Council that police failed to follow protocols in many anti-drug operations, according to initial findings of a review led by his department.

The assessment by President Rodrigo Duterte's justice chief was based on a review that the Department of Justice led into "drug war" deaths. He said earlier this month that the findings were "not so flattering" for the police.

At a high-level meeting of the UNHRC, Guevarra said initial findings showed that  weapons allegedly recovered from those killed in the operations were not examined to check the police narrative that the "drug personalities" sought to resist arrest or that they fought back.

"No verification of its ownership was taken [and] no request for ballistic examination or paraffin test was pursued until its completion," he said.

"In more than half of the records reviewed, the law enforcement agents involved failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene."

Guevarra said the cases of "drug war" deaths that were reviewed were from Bulacan, Pampanga and Cavite provinces, as well as from parts of Metro Manila, which he said were the areas "with the highest number of incidents."

He also told the UNHRC that Philippine National Police leadership had already been informed of the findings, and administrative and criminal charges were already recommended against "scores of police officers" found to have violated protocols.

The Commission on Human Rights earlier said it had been left out of the review of the cases. The panel submitted its initial report to Duterte last December of last year..

The "war on drugs" has been a central government program since 2016 and was on Duterte's platform on the campaign trail. Human rights groups have scored the violent anti-drug campaign as having failed to address what they say is better treated as a health issue.

By end-2020, the government's project "RealNumbersPH" acknowledged 6,011 people killed in operations since the "war" started. The figure, however, is different from that of the police, which reported nearly 8,000 killed by the end of October last year.

HRW: DOJ, police 'asleep' on killings

In a statement after the UNHRC meeting, rights monitor Human Rights Watch said what Guevarra disclosed to the panel was already "a reality that was obvious to those in the affected communities."

"At best, the justice secretary's statement [shows] both the DOJ and senior police were asleep at the switch as 'drug war' killings accelerated and intensified," said Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director. "The real name for that is impunity, and these police failures were so systematic that these oversights go well past the accidental or inadvertent failures."

HRW added that the police had become the administration's "hit squad" and had been encouraged by Duterte, who had repeatedly said he would back cops charged over alleged violations in law enforcement operations.

Duterte has since earned criticism from the international community on the anti-drug campaign, and has been accused of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court.

Even during a pandemic, there was also an increase in deaths from police's 'Tokhang' operations.

HRW added that member states of the UNHRC should see to it that the country follows through on its pledges and that its proposals are fully implemented. It also called for Guevarra's findings to be immediately made public.

"No one should forget that the Philippines government excels at telling the international community what it wants to hear in international meetings like this one, only to forget the pledges and the promised follow-up as soon as their officials arrive back home," Robertson said. — Christian Deiparine with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

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