EDITORIAL - Lapses in the drug war

EDITORIAL - Lapses in the drug war

(The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2021 - 12:00am

Declaring what has been obvious for the past years, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council this week that law enforcement protocols were not followed in police anti-narcotics operations that led to deaths.

Reporting the preliminary findings of a review conducted by the Department of Justice, Guevarra, speaking from Manila, told the 46th regular session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland that there was no proper testing of guns allegedly recovered from drug suspects who were killed ostensibly for resisting arrest.

Critics of the drug war have claimed such guns were often planted on the slain persons, and several reports pointed to the recycling of such firearms by police. Guevarra said in most cases, there was no effort to trace the ownership of the guns.

As a result of the review, administrative and criminal charges have been recommended against “scores” of police officers, Guevarra told the UNHRC. Critics fear that the top officials who were in charge of the drug war, especially in the early and most brutal stage of operation plans Tokhang and Double Barrel, would not be held accountable in the ongoing review. The preliminary results reportedly covered only 328 cases of “nanlaban” or resisting arrest and drug-related deaths under investigation, out of 5,655 that the DOJ intends to review.

Skeptics of the sincerity of the review also say that Guevarra’s pronouncements are meant to pull the rug from under any effort to place the Duterte administration under a formal, full-blown investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Malacañang has said Guevarra’s report to the UNHRC shows that the judicial system in the Philippines is working.

One way of dispelling skepticism is to follow up Guevarra’s report with long overdue reforms in the way the campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out by law enforcement agencies. Another way is the filing of criminal and administrative charges ASAP against those deemed to have committed the lapses uncovered in the review.

Finally, the public is watching to see how high up accountability for the lapses will go. This, however, may have to wait until a change of administration. Until then, the government can move beyond reporting the results of a review, and initiate the necessary law enforcement reforms as well as get the wheels of justice turning.

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