THE alleged extrajudicial killings and the rise of police impunity from President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs remained a “chief human rights” concern in the Philippines, the United States State Department reported.
Based from its latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the US government said that even after the surge of the alleged extrajudicial killing among suspected drug users and dealers in 2016, the incident of impunity had continued in 2017.
“Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the anti-drug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017,” said the report, released in Washington on Friday (Saturday, Manila time).
The report said it also posed some concern because the Philippine government had investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, among others.
“The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings,” it added.
In a press conference in Washington, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor acting principal deputy assistant Michael Kozak clarified the reason they conducted such reports was not to pass judgment on other countries mentioned in the study.
“So the reason we do the reports is not to be passing judgment on other countries, or the old word of name and shame; it’s not with that in mind,” Kozak said.
The report, he said, was meant for the US Congress to use the result to come up to a sound decision making.
“It’s to fulfill a statutory responsibility to our Congress to try to produce the most accurate description of what we find is going on in other countries so that they can use that in making decisions,” Kozak added.
Aside from the fact that Congress can utilize it, Kozak also said the report could also used it in its judicial system and executive branch.
“And frankly, it gets used then also by our judicial system. For example, when our immigration officers or our immigration judges are assessing asylum claims or refugee claims, they’re matching the person’s story against what they know of country conditions, and they use these reports as a factual baseline for that,” he said.
“We use it in the Executive Branch as well when we’re meeting with foreign officials. It’s the basis on which we can brief the President or the Secretary of State on the human rights situation in that country,” he added.
He also clarified that the whole effort in coming up a report was to “make it as factual, as clinical as possible” and not draw any conclusion or recommendation.
“We’re reporting what’s out there, and often you’re getting contradictory information. You’ll have a credible source—media in another country, a respectable newspaper, or a nongovernment organization or something—saying, ‘This happened,’ and then you have somebody else saying, ‘No, it didn’t,’ or, ‘It didn’t happen that way.’ And we try to reflect both of those things,” he explained.
“We don’t try to resolve and say this is the—this is the true facts (sic) here,” he added.
The report is the latest expression of alarm by the US government against Duterte’s deadly war on drugs and other related issues despite his better relations with President Donald Trump.
Former US President Barack Obama has raised his concern over the anti-drug campaign that killed thousands of civilians who were allegedly involved in illegal drug use and trade.
The concern of Obama then angered Duterte and told him to “go to hell.”
Asked when countries should look at the US for leadership on human rights, and should they be looking at this report, or should they be looking at Trump’s embrace of Duterte, Kozak said the report was just primarily an assessment to what was happening in other countries.
“I think this is showing what we assess to be the human rights situation in all of the countries you’ve just mentioned, including—now even more so—the responsibility of the government for the abuses that are occurring there,” he explained.
“They’re not—we’re not just saying there are these societal problems in the country; we’re saying the government either has done these bad deeds or not,” he added.
Although police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings, the US said there had been no criminal complaints filed against police officers accused of unlawful murders.
The report stated that from January to the end of September 2017, Philippine-based and foreign media had reported more than 900 fatalities in police operations suspected to be connected with the violent illegal drugs crackdown.