Lack of records, negative gunpowder tests: DOJ releases drug war report

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 20)— The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday released details on 52 cases of deaths in the government's war on drugs — with the panel's review finding lapses in police operation protocols.

The agency's 20-page document showed a summary table of the drug war cases — dates of which ranged from July 2016 to September 2020.

The incidents took place in different provinces nationwide, with majority categorized under buy-bust operations.

The panel's observations

In several cases, police operatives reported that they acted in self-defense after suspects allegedly fired at them.

But the panel found that many of the victims tested negative for gunpowder nitrates. One female drug war suspect, in particular, also yielded "negative results from latent print," indicating that she had not held or used a firearm against the law enforcers.

In another case, the DOJ noted that the paraffin test — which would determine the presence of gunpowder — was done on the firearm itself and not on the suspect.

The probe also discovered that in several cases, there were no ballistics or paraffin test results, Scene of Crime Operations (SOCO) reports, or autopsy reports on record.

Police's excessive force, penalties

For one case, the DOJ said the suspect was part of the drug watchlist and that the police's buy-bust operation "was found to be legitimate."

However, the panel noted that law enforcers on the scene violated standard operating procedures with regards to the arrests, due to what it called "employment of excessive force."

The operatives' use of excessive force was also noted in other cases. In one instance, this led to the deaths of the suspects, who bore multiple gunshot wounds.

But how were the police officers punished? In majority of the cases (35), they were only meted with suspension. The others faced demotion and dismissal from service.

PNP welcomes release of drug war info

The DOJ report was publicized amid the government's bid to uphold transparency in the drug war probe process.

This was echoed by the Philippine National Police (PNP), which vowed accountability among its ranks. Police chief Guillermo Eleazar said they have been continuously cooperating with the DOJ regarding the probe.

"[I]pinaubaya na natin sa kanila ang desisyon tungkol sa mga kasong ito (We leave the decision up to the DOJ regarding these cases) in the interest of truth, transparency, and justice," Eleazar said in a statement.

For its part, Malacañang said the Justice department's findings disprove claims that President Rodrigo Duterte is responsible for the alleged abuses and lapses in his administration's flagship anti-drug campaign.

"[O]n the contrary it proves that the Philippine state has in fact investigated and prosecuted individuals for these killings," Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a separate forum.

The International Criminal Court's pre-trial chamber, which had formally authorized an investigation into the Philippine government's drug war, estimated that around 12,000 to 30,000 people were killed from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019.

After the DOJ's review, these cases will undergo the scrutiny of the National Bureau of Investigation for further buildup, and the possible filing of criminal charges against erring police officers.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.