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Palace promises charges over lapses in 50 'drug war' cases

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Palace promises charges over lapses in 50 'drug war' cases
File photo shows presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
The STAR / Joven Cagande

MANILA, Philippines — There is no need to demand a thorough review of "drug war" cases, the Palace said Thursday, saying the justice department will continue looking into cases where supposed drug suspects died in anti-narcotics operations.

The Palace also said that officers involved in 50 cases that the Philippine National Police forwarded to the Department of Justice would face criminal charges. The DOJ found that most cops in the cases it reviewed were suspended over lapses in the operations. Cops in one case were punished with a reprimand.

Rights groups panned the findings and the direction of the probe, calling on the DOJ to go beyond the "mere filing of cases" against the individual cops in what they said was a long-overdue investigation of a systemic problem.  

"There is probably no need to make another demand for more cases to be examined because the DOJ will continue [its review]," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino at a briefing Thursday morning. 

"On the contrary, the decision of the DOJ proves that we are not soft, because the 52 will face cases."

The 50 cases — two of the original 52 cases were taken out — cover just a few of the 6,100 deaths in anti-narcotics operations. The government has maintained that the "drug personalities" killed had violently resisted arrest and forced police to shoot them. 

Reacting to the review, the Free Legal Assistance Group said that the released information "barely scratches the surface and is grossly insufficient and inconsistent with the government’s commitments under international law to provide an effective review of cases involving alleged extralegal killings."

But Roque said that the review shows the government recognizes and upholds human rights. "That is the obligation of the state, to investigate cases of violations to human rights...that's proof that we are fulfilling our obligations." 

In a separate briefing, Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said the department will continue with their investigation and will "review and give proper recommendations" on cases that will be sent to them.

He added that the International Criminal Court, which has authorized an investigation into killings in the Philippines, could use the information from the review.

"This information table, this matrix, if they want, they can use them," he said in Filipino. "That is up to the ICC."

He stressed that the information, which the DOJ released in the face of mounting pressure from media and the public, is already "open source information." 

"So it's available to anybody who may be minded to look into this and to use this for whatever purposes that they want."

Failed 'drug war'?

Although the government has maintained that those deaths were because "drug personalities" violently resisted arrest, a Department of Justice review of "drug war" cases has found lapses in many operations.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson — a candidate for president — said the DOJ was "crucial" in showing the international community that the country's justice system could "independently and responsibly" hold erring cops accountable.

"Once such evidence is clearly established to warrant the filing of criminal information against identified suspects, there is no other course of action for the Department of Justice to pursue but to take those cases to their logical conclusion, no matter the consequences," he said. 

Lacson, himself a former PNP chief, claimed earlier this year that the president's drug war was a failure. 

"We have to be honest with ourselves. The 'drug war; really failed. Almost nothing changed with the illegal drugs situation. It's still chronic. If it succeeded, then there should be a significant dent on the drug syndicates," he said in February after news broke of a "misencounter" shooting between operatives of the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. 

"What else can we do with the one year remaining? We still have to deal with the pandemic and our other problems." — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag 

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE DOJ DRUG WAR PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE PNP WAR ON DRUGS
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