Rights groups refute Marcos’ claim of ‘progress’ in ending drug war abuses

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Rights groups refute Marcos� claim of �progress� in ending drug war abuses
This undated photo shows people lighting candles to protest killings under the Duterte administration's 'war on drugs.'
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, File

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights groups on Thursday refuted the president’s recent claim that the government is “progressing” in terms of curbing police abuses in the so-called “war on drugs” initiated by his predecessor.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) in separate statements criticized Marcos for touting the “lessened” problem of drugs under his leadership during his visit to Germany this week.

Marcos’ claim “disregards the fact that the killings have continued under his watch and, equally important, his administration is failing to provide accountability for past and recent crimes,” said Bryony Lau, Asia Deputy Director at HRW. 

During his three-day visit to Germany this week, Marcos said that the government's approach to drug use has "changed significantly," according to reports of his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday.

"I diametrically opposed to handling the drug problem in that way, by confrontation, by violence and it really requires so much, more much deeper understanding on the problem and the much deeper solution. So, yes, I think that we are also progressing when it comes to that," Marcos said.

Citing data from the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center, Lau pointed out that since Marcos assumed office in June 2022, illegal drug operations have resulted in the deaths of an average of one person everyday. Since then, law enforcement officers or unidentified gunmen have killed at least 572 people as of March 7, according to the group.

“The ‘drug war’ remains a state policy. Marcos has not rescinded Duterte's issuances for the ‘drug war.’ He has likewise never categorically and publicly ordered law enforcers to stop the violence,” Lau said.

Marcos also “continues to distort the facts to portray his administration favorably on the global stage” even as human rights violations under his watch “persist unabated,” PAHRA said in a message to Philstar.com.

Marcos has yet to order the discontinuation of the police’s signature campaigns against illegal drugs, including the notorious "Double Barrel" and "Oplan Tokhang" schemes introduced under former President Rodrigo Duterte, which is currently the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Philippine National Police (PNP)’s “Double Barrel” campaign against illegal drugs was first launched in 2016 under then-PNP chief Ronaldo Bato Dela Rosa, who is currently a senator. 

"Project Tokhang" or "Oplan Tokhang," meanwhile, is part of PNP's "Double Barrel" campaign and targets small-time drug dealers. 

“Despite a decrease in reported cases of EJK, the underlying issues remain unchanged,” PAHRA said.

Lack of accountability

While Marcos said that “some” erring police have been “tried and convicted, now in jail and serving their time,” the two rights groups pointed out that an overwhelming majority of drug-related extrajudicial killings have yet to be investigated and brought to court.

“This is a misleading claim. Out of the thousands and thousands of killings since 2016, only two cases have resulted in the conviction of police officers, one of which was during the Duterte administration,” Lau said. 

Official probes launched into the killings has “not produced any significant results,” Lau said, adding that authorities even continue to refuse to assist in investigations by the Commission on Human Rights. 

“President Marcos has likewise steadfastly refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its investigations of alleged crimes against humanity prior to his taking office,” Lau added.

PAHRA added that concrete resolutions to improve local accountability mechanisms and data gathering on alleged police violations “remain deficient.”

In January, Marcos vowed to actively thwart ICC representatives’ access to all government agencies and individuals in connection to their probe on the alleged crimes against humanity committed during Duterte’s drug war.

There have only been two convictions of law enforcers who killed innocent civilians during Duterte’s "drug war" — the murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos and the case of 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman. 

Official figures put deaths from Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign at more than 6,000, but estimates from human rights groups peg the actual number of fatalities as at least 30,000.

— with reports by Gaea Katreena Cabico

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