Presidential bets want to continue drug war but without extrajudicial killings

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Presidential bets want to continue drug war but without extrajudicial killings
File photo shows police investigating the death of a victim of the Duterte government's so-called war on drugs.
AFP / Noel Celis, file

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential bets vowed to continue the Duterte administration's flagship campaign against illegal drugs but said they would recalibrate its methods and leave out the extra-judicial killings linked to Duterte's bloody campaign. 

At the Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews aired over GMA News late Saturday evening, presidential candidates Vice President Leni Robredo, Sens. Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson, and Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno all agreed that there were extrajudicial killings committed in the course of the government's so-called war on drugs.

Despite an uptick in killings and operations during the coronavirus pandemic, government data compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that crystal methamphetamines or shabu were still found to be behind the most arrest and treatment admissions in the country in 2020. 

Lacson said that any reforms and strategies behind a broad war on illegal drugs should be comprehensive. 

"The Duterte administration was too focused on enforcement and forgot about prevention and rehabilitation," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

Robredo reiterated that she would pursue the campaign against illegal narcotics with the "same vigor but different methods."

"I believe that we have a big problem with drugs but there are better ways of addressing it," she said, pointing to her recommendations from her stint as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Council on Anti-Illegal Drugs. 

As he did for most of the interview, Moreno pointed to his achievements as Manila City mayor and promised to replicate it on a national level. 

"Whatever we did in Manila, we’ll do. Even wanted suspects, we make sure they’re alive," he said. 

"My order was very specific: never violate human rights. But the war on drugs must continue, and we must pursue that."

Pacquiao highlighted the need to go after and penalize the manufacturers of illegal drugs instead of regular street-level pushers. 

"I want to unite the Filipino people but I’m very angry against drug users. We will continue the war on drugs but in the right way... If they’re not punished, then the regular people are the ones who are affected," he said. 

READ: Majority of Filipinos see human rights violations in 'failing' drug war — SWS

What about the ICC investigation?

All four candidates said they will bring back the Philippines as a member of the International Criminal Court. Duterte pulled the country out of the ICC in 2018 in response to the Office of the Prosecutor saying it would examine the allegations against Duterte's drug war. 

The four candidates said they were also in favor of mandatory drug tests for election candidates. 

Asked if the International Criminal Court should prosecute President Rodrigo Duterte, Lacson answered in the affirmative while Moreno raised his "no" card. Pacquiao gave a conditional answer: yes; if committed any wrongdoing.

READ: Rights watchdog: Possible ICC probe will be 'painstaking, tedious' process

Robredo did not give an answer and claimed she was not in any position to say if Duterte must be prosecuted. She was careful to point out that the international court was still in its preliminary investigation stage.

However, judges of the ICC have already since approved a full investigation into potential crimes against humanity committed during the drug war. At this stage, summons and arrest warrants can already be issued should the prosecutor so decide. The killings continue to this day. 

"There is a reasonable basis for the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation, in the sense that the crime against humanity of murder appears to have been committed, and that potential case(s) arising from such investigation appear to fall within the Court’s jurisdiction,” said the judges.

READ: CHR says Duterte admin's rights violations 'incomparable' to previous terms

Official government data as of December 2021 says that 6,221 persons have died during anti-drug operations by state agents.

The national government's running tally only includes operations by law enforcement personnel, however; including killings by non-government vigilantes, human rights groups both here and abroad say the death toll may actually be closer to 30,000. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the civilian toll of the war on drugs "is much higher than the official figures suggest."

Duterte's landslide win in 2016 was built on, among other things, ambitious promises of ending drugs and criminality within the first six months of his term. He later asked for a six-month extension that he also later failed to meet.  

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