The Philippine National Police is willing to give the Department of Justice access to records of all its investigations against policemen in its drug war campaign since 2016.
"As long as the DOJ requested for the availability of these (records), we will provide them with the information," PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar told ANC Wednesday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra
earlier said his agency was granted by the police access to 61 cases where the PNP Internal Affairs Services had found administrative and criminal liability on the part of law enforcers.
However, the 61 cases constitute less than 1 percent of the more than 7,000 cases of deaths during police drug operations, based on official government figures. Human rights groups claim a much higher count.
The memorandum of agreement between the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police is expected to be signed in the next few days that would pave the way for closer cooperation in the investigation of alleged extra-judicial killings, illegal drug operations that resulted in deaths of suspects and other related cases.
“We are currently working on the memorandum of agreement as per the instructions of Secretary (Menardo I.) Guevarra, and we hope to finalize this document in the next few days.” Justice Undersecretary Adrian Ferdinand Sugay said, in a text message.
The DOJ said it would tap the Commission on Human Rights in the investigation and review of deaths in cases arising from illegal drugs operations conducted by the policemen.
Guevarra said the CHR’s involvement “may be in some other form, such as in locating and assisting witnesses.”
“This was one of the things that I discussed with the CHR today, as I intend to honor the DOJ’s commitment to engage the CHR in this endeavor,” he said in a text message to reporters.
However, Guevarra said there would be further discussion on the matter.
Guevarra and Eleazar agreed last May 21 that the PNP would allow the DOJ to conduct a review of the 61 cases where the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (PNP-IAS) determined that there was administrative and criminal liability among the policemen involved in illegal drugs operations that resulted in deaths.
For Eleazar, this collaboration between the DOJ and PNP was a "good step" to dispel allegations they were keeping the files secret.
"Now that the President has given authority to the DOJ to review these cases, we will be giving them the necessary support and cooperation in order for them to have access to this information," he added.
Since the police waged a war against illegal drugs, Eleazar said the PNP-IAS had investigated all cases that involved deaths of suspects since 2016.
He noted that some cases did not prosper as most of the families of the victims reportedly refused to cooperate and give information to the police.
"The marching order of the President was simple: Do what is right and legal. As police officers, we'll just proceed with the mandate that we have," he said
“The 61 cases where liability was established by the PNP-IAS came from the more than 6,000 cases reviewed by the IAS. We thus presume that the rest were dismissed,” he added.
Since last year, a DOJ-led review panel has been looking into over 5,000 illegal drugs operations that were conducted since 2016 and have resulted in deaths to suspects.
Guevarra said the panel’s initial report had been submitted to President Duterte and the PNP.
In a statement Wednesday, the CHR said the “PNP’s willingness in opening these cases for scrutiny is a step towards the right direction.”
The CHR said it hoped that these 61 cases would be “just a beginning” and that more police cases would be open for review in the future.
“CHR, even from the start, has repeatedly urged the government to be transparent and open in cooperating in the investigations of the said cases involving alleged extrajudicial killings related to the government’s drug campaign,” the CHR stressed.
But the National Union of People’s Lawyers through its President Edre Olalia expressed reservation on the proposed cooperation between the DOJ and PNP for the investigation of the anti-drug operations that resulted in deaths of suspects.
“Victims, families and witnesses in the so-called drug war and rights advocates cannot be euphoric at this supposed shift,” Olalia said in a statement.
The NUPL lawyer also does not believe there are “only 61 cases are currently seen with ‘clear liability’ out of the thousands of cases.”
“The disclosure of the records, given the inordinate delay, the hemming and hedging, the issues of transparency, impartiality and independence, and the insultingly petty number to be made available, may even eventually validate the view that it may have been sanitized and cherry-picked to be used as possible ‘showcases,’ inconclusive or not emblematic as they may turn out to be,” Olalia said.
In related developments, Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher of Human Rights Watch, said two recent developments signalled possible improvement in the conduct of PNP operations, which has been deeply implicated in President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” and other abuses.
One was the announcement Monday Guevarra that the PNP would allow the department access to the records of 61 cases in which there is sufficient evidence to file administrative or criminal charges against police officers, said Conde in a statement.
He said: “This could be a breakthrough. The Department of Justice promised the United Nations Human Rights Council that it would investigate some of these killings."
“In February, Guevarra disclosed to the council that police violated internal protocols in half of the 328 cases it examined. Since the drug war began in 2016, only one case has resulted in a conviction of law enforcement officers."
“The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor is examining whether the “drug war” killings in the Philippines warrant a full investigation.”