MANILA (UPDATE 3) - Amnesty International has called on the United Nations to conduct an “independent, impartial and effective investigation” on the drug war in the Philippines as it found that “extrajudicial executions” continue to take place in the country, three years after the campaign was launched.
In a report released Monday, the London-based human rights group said Bulacan is now the country’s bloodiest killing field based on the high number of fatalities in the area.
Amnesty checked on 27 killings between May 2018 to April 2019 in Bulacan and noted the transfer of some police commanders who previously supervised “abusive operations” in Manila in the past 18 months.
The new report "They just kill: Ongoing extrajudicial executions and other violations in the Philippines' war on drugs", outlined patterns it saw in the killings it investigated.
Amnesty said police reports used a "template" to describe the killings of drug suspects who allegedly resisted arrest.
"It's so consistent, it’s a script," the report cited forensic pathologist Dr. Racquel Fortun as saying.
The report said multiple gunshot wounds found in most of those killed were more than enough to subdue and disable them.
Amnesty said witnesses and family members of suspects killed cast doubt on the police's claim that suspects resisted arrest or tried to fight back. In some cases, police in plain clothes were seen "abducting" the suspects who would later turn up dead, allegedly after resisting arrest.
In another case examined by Amnesty, the body of a slain suspect showed signs it was beaten black and blue but the police report claimed he got into firefight with police during a buy-bust operation.
An autopsy report cited by Amnesty also indicated a suspect was killed while on the ground, with both arms raised.
Amnesty also documented cases of mistaken identities or collateral damage.
In one case, a police informant who had been providing information on drug suspects, falsely testifying in court against drug suspects and sourcing .38 caliber guns as evidence to be planted on suspects, ended up dead allegedly due to a buy-bust operation with the same gun placed on his own body.
According to the report, in 15 of 20 incidents examined by Amnesty, the suspects killed were included in barangay drug watch lists. The group denounced the lists as “not the product of a fair legal process” and warned that “there is no way to get delisted.”
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
This is the second Amnesty International report on the Philippine drug war.
In January 2017, its first report, “If you are poor you are killed”: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ War on Drugs,” claimed that police systematically targeted mostly poor and defenseless people across the country while planting evidence, recruiting paid killers and fabricating official incident reports in what may amount to crimes against humanity.
Crimes against humanity refer to a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population as part of a government policy which is a ground for prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
“This report provides further indication that these extrajudicial executions, murders, unlawful killings, assaults and unlawful detentions have been committed in the furtherance of a governmental policy to direct an attack against, at least, a part of the civilian population. These acts should therefore be investigated as possible crimes against humanity,” Amnesty’s new report said.
On April 24, 2017, lawyer Jude Sabio filed a 77-page communication with the ICC Office of the Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accusing Duterte and high-ranking government officials of committing crimes against humanity through mass murder or extra-judicial executions.
Other groups followed suit by sending their own communications to the ICC Prosecutor.
The ICC Prosecutor announced on Feb. 8, 2018 that she was opening a preliminary examination on the war on drugs in the Philippines. This prompted Duterte to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, more than a month later.
The Philippines’ formal withdrawal from the ICC took effect on March 17, 2019.
Recently, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern over the human rights situation in the country, during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council’s 41st session in Geneva.
Last week, more than two dozen countries led by Iceland submitted a draft resolution before the council asking Bachelet’s office to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the country while urging the Philippine government to cooperate with the UN High Commissioner and UN experts.
But Amnesty’s new report wants to take a step further – an investigation spearheaded by the UN Human Rights Council itself.
Justifying this call, Amnesty said police killings in the Philippines are usually not investigated by the police who rely on “presumption of regularity” despite its own manual requiring every police killing to be investigated.
Amnesty said the conviction of 3 cops who killed Kian delos Santos is an exception – only one out of thousands killed – while the other deaths have not been credibly investigated.
The group said that in Kian’s case, only the junior officers were punished while then-Caloocan City police chief Senior Superintendent Chito Bersaluna was promoted as Bulacan provincial police chief 9 months after Kian was killed.
The report noted that Bersaluna himself showed up at the crime scene in some of the cases, even addressing the media.
It added: "At times, he alerted media before large-scale ‘simultaneous anti criminality operations,’ once even telling journalists to expect a high death toll, journalists familiar with the incident said.”
Amnesty also reported that most family members of those killed have a hard time getting copies of police and autopsy reports from the police, making it difficult to file cases against those involved in the killings.
Poverty and a climate of fear, it added, also hinder the filing of cases.
In its report, Amnesty also found that rehabilitation efforts for drug users are “woefully inadequate, both in number and quality,” claiming Philippine government agencies failed to consult with drug policy reform advocates and public health experts.
According to the PNP, the total number of drug suspects killed in legitimate police operations have now reached 6,600 from July 2016, when the campaign started, up to May 2019.
But human rights groups said the deadly drug war has claimed the lives of 27,000 victims including children who died as collateral damage. The latest casualty is 3-year-old Myka Ulpina who died in a police operation in Rodriguez, Rizal on June 30.
Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano accused Philippine authorities of obfuscation and misinformation, saying the PNP's count of 6,600 deaths from legitimate operations accounts for only 6 deaths a day. "But if 23,000 deaths under investigation are included, 27 persons were killed a day under the Philippines' drug war," he said.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation are already probing possible violations committed by law enforcers.
"There's no need for Amnesty International to urge us to investigate possible violations of law by law enforcement agents in the conduct of the government's anti-illegal drug campaign," he said in a statement.
"The DOJ and the NBI are ready and willing to investigate and prosecute law enforcement agents upon proper complaint by people who have personal knowledge of any wrongdoing by police officers during drug operations. Until witnesses come forward and testify, however, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty by our law enforcement officers shall be respected," Guevarra added.