"We really hope the truth would come out."
We’re not about to jump up and down like chimpanzees, to shamelessly appropriate a term used by the late human rights lawyer Joker Arroyo (does anyone still remember in what context?), over the recent news report that the Philippine National Police has decided to open a portion of its records on the bloody war on illegal drugs unleashed by the Duterte administration since mid-2016.
Why? We recall that the PNP had earlier released records of its anti-drug operations following an order by no less than the Supreme Court based on a petition by, if we’re not mistaken, human rights lawyers.
The High Tribunal specifically asked the police leadership to make public its records of the thousands of deaths of suspected drug dealers who were gunned down supposedly because they fought back (“nanlaban”) when accosted by law enforcers.
How did the human rights lawyers react to the records released by the PNP?
They called these “rubbish,” since they were next to useless in finding out who did the killings, and what the circumstances that led to the killings were.
Each and every one of the records, the lawyers revealed, narrated that the suspected drug dealers engaged them in a gun battle, forcing them to fight back and eventually neutralize their targets.
In other words, each and every police operation that led to the killing of drug suspects was deemed by the PNP as legitimate and aboveboard.
Every PNP chief since Mr. Duterte took office in 2016 validated the common narrative that all those who were killed—more than 7,000 of them as of last count—fought back, whether they were engaged in selling just one gram or a gargantuan stash of shabu.
The evidence presented by the police to media in most cases was a rusty .38 caliber revolver, presumably retrieved from the disused firearms pile in precincts, rather than actually taken from the victims.
We do recognize the gravity of the drug problem in the country. We support legitimate police operations aimed at dismantling drug syndicates and bringing them behind bars. If the drug suspects really fought back, then good riddance if they were really overpowered in the exchange. But if not, we have a very big problem with law enforcers taking shortcuts because their commander-in-chief has practically ordered them to shoot and kill suspected drug dealers and that he would take full responsibility for them.
At issue here, from our vantage point, is the rule of law.
We saw a glimmer of hope that things would begin to change when Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in February that weapons in “nanlaban” cases or police operations which led to deaths of alleged drug suspects were not examined and that law enforcement agents failed to follow standard protocols.
It appears that Guevarra had no choice but to make the admission amid mounting international pressure for an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the country in the wake of a damaging report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in June last year that described in detail widespread human rights violations and the culture of impunity in the Philippines.
Perhaps taking the cue from the Department of Justice, the PNP, this time with a new chief at the helm, has indicated that it is willing to open a portion of its drug war records to the DOJ for review.
For Guevarra ,this is a “very significant milestone” because it “did not happen in previous years.”
The PNP said it would allow the DOJ access to records of 61 cases involving hundreds of its personnel nationwide where the PNP Internal Affairs Service had found administrative/criminal liability on the part of law enforcement agents.
These cases, according to Guevarra, were reviewed and evaluated by the PNP IAS using its own records and personnel.
While human rights groups have pointed out that the 61 cases comprise less than 1 percent of the nearly 8,000 cases of deaths during police anti-drug operations, based on official government figures, it is an important step in determining accountability.
Human rights groups here and abroad insist that between 20,000 to 30,000 have actually lost their lives in Duterte’s violent war on drugs.
PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar has said he and Guevarra vowed recently to “active(ly) collaborate” in reviewing drug operations where deaths occurred and in investigating alleged extrajudicial killings and related cases.
Will this cooperation between the DOJ and PNP lead to salutary results, that is, the war on illegal drugs will be conducted according to established protocols and follow due process and the rule of law?
We really can’t tell at this point. But we do hope that the truth will come out. There should be no more ‘rubbish’ records that reveal nothing about the accountability of police personnel involved in anti-drug operations that result in murder and mayhem in the course of Duterte’s clear “take-no-prisoners” approach to the country’s drug problem.
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