Rights watchdog hits PNP for 'undercounting' drug war killings under Marcos

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Rights watchdog hits PNP for 'undercounting' drug war killings under Marcos
A relative of a victim of an extra-judicial killing attends a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights in Manila on October 29, 2021.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch hit the Philippine National Police Friday for what it said was the latter's "downplaying" and "undercounting" of drug war deaths under the Marcos Jr. administration. 

Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin, PNP chief, said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Monday that 32 have died in PNP operations while 14 others were killed by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. 

He also claimed that the number of drug suspects who had been killed over the past five months was "very minimal" as the PNP opted to focus on engaging other sectors.

In a statement, Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of HRWs Asia Division pointed to the estimate of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center, whose Dahas program tallied 127 people killed in “drug war” incidents from July 1 after Marcos was sworn in, to November 7.

"Even if one accepts the PNP’s figures, calling this death toll “very minimal” smacks of insensitivity and callousness. Since the anti-drug campaign began seven years ago under then-president Rodrigo Duterte, thousands of families of people gunned down have been crying out for justice," he said.

"Not only has the violence continued, but Marcos also made clear that he is not going to undertake a policy change regarding illegal drugs. In September, he said he wanted to focus on rehabilitation, but there is no evidence that the authorities have done anything to make such a shift."

During the Duterte administration, the PNP admitted to killing more than 6,200 suspected drug users or dealers, mostly impoverished Filipinos. But rights groups both here and abroad say that the real death toll may be as high as 30,000, counting vigilante killings not acknowledged by the police. 

But HRW pointed out that the PNP "has been known to manipulate its statistics on extrajudicial killings related to the campaign." Research by Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups found that police officers routinely plant evidence such as illegal drugs and weapons on the bodies of victims to try to justify their claims that the person had fought back.

Marcos' government has said that the "war on drugs" under its term would focus more on preventing drug use and the rehabilitation of drug dependents. 

Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla lashed out at the New York-based rights organization, saying: "Not all views are objective, as they were colored and poisoned by non-government organizations towing [National Democratic Front] lines."

Remulla has since taken the position that critics calling attention to the country's human rights situation were influenced by the Communist Party of the Philippines. 

During the adoption of the recommendations of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines, Remulla accused communist rebels of "blurring the lines between civic activism and armed violence.”

"Extrajudicial killing is not state policy. Classifying a death that occurred during an anti-illegal drug operation as extra-judicial killing by default runs counter to the tenets of due process and the rule of law. We will never tolerate the abuse of power and use of force beyond the bounds of law," he said then. 

Robertson said that the Philippine government "made misleading assertions in its defense of its human rights record during the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines earlier this month at the United Nations Human Rights Council."

"But so far, all that has been forthcoming from the new administration has been inflated rhetoric masking empty claims. The government’s killing of 46 people is not “minimal” by any standard. It’s outrageous. Friends of the Philippines should not be fooled," he said.

with a report from Kristine Joy Patag 

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