Months after President Duterte declared he would be happy to go to jail for ordering the killing of human rights activists and communists, an international watchdog group released its second of three reports documenting the “intensifying political repression” and the continuing human rights violations in the Philippines.
In its second report (the first was released in March), the Independent International Commission of Investigation Into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (Investigate PH) said state-driven political violence continues to escalate, and focused on three aspects of this: 1) a war on the poor in the guise of anti-drug operations; 2) a war on dissent; and 3) a war on the Moro people.
Relying on testimonies and verified information from resource persons who include survivors, relatives of victims and human rights advocates, an expert witness on autopsies, and court records, Investigate PH found the Philippine National Police (PNP) continues to obstruct justice, routinely covering up the circumstances of killings in the war on drugs, and intimidating families and potential witnesses.
The report indicated that unarmed victims were killed inside their homes, on the street or on being abducted. Weapons or narcotics were “likely planted after,” the report also pointed out.
“Warrants are not required and individuals lack immediate and effective legal recourse to challenge their inclusion on target lists, undermining due process,” the report said.
“Those killed in anti-drug operations are overwhelmingly poor people unable to assert their rights to due process,” it added.
Investigate PH also said there was a lack of credible autopsies as proper procedures were ignored.
“Death Certificates lacked data and were inaccurate. The police examination did not include X-rays of victims, nor properly record evidence of defensive wounds,” Investigate PH said.
“A number of the bodies showed evidence of zip ties or handcuffs, which indicates that the victims were restrained when they were executed,” the report continued. It noted that Dr. Raquel Fortun, a professor of forensic pathology at UP, found that defensive wounds of victims were not recorded by the police.
Death certificates of drug war victims were also signed by doctors associated with the PNP. This means there could be cooperation with the medical professionals in the cover up of the extrajudicial killings, the report said.
The report also found that the armed forces are more emboldened in killing dissenters.
“Police and soldiers are now executing political dissenters in a manner similar to extrajudicial killings in anti-drug operations,” the report said.
Duterte’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAD), the Anti-Terrorism Act, and increasingly the justice system have not only facilitated these killings, but are institutionalizing repression that harms civil society, from alleged communists to churches to long-standing democratic institutions, the report said.
Against this backdrop, the President’s announced intention to run for vice president takes on an ominous tone indeed, with the prospect of six more bloody years but little to show for it. After all, he himself acknowledged back in 2019 that the administration’s war on drugs was a failure—and his minions only recently said he had “unfinished business” when it comes to drugs and corruption.
We shudder at the prospect of how Mr. Duterte will try to finish this business in years to come.