EJKs still top human rights concern in Duterte drug war – U.S. report

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

This story was updated to include the statement of the Philippine National Police.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) — A U.S. government report raised concern as alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines' drug war continue unabated.

"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," the U.S. State Department said in its "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017."

The annual report, released Saturday, documents the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories in the world.

"There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs," the report stated.

Local and international human rights groups have criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying this resulted in more than 13,000 extrajudicial killings.

The report, however, noted that Duterte's decision to put the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) at the helm of the drug war instead of the national police, "prompted a drop in reported extrajudicial killings."

Prior to PDEA's takeover in October 2017, 3,906 were killed in police operations from July 1, 2016 to September 26, 2017. There are now 4,075 deaths as of March 20, according to government data. This means there were 169 drug-related deaths in six months under PDEA's leadership.

However, the Philippine National Police (PNP) belied the report, saying the Senate has discovered there were only isolated killings by "rogue police officers."

"Our country's justice system is functional and the necessary checks and balances are assured by government agencies mandated to do so. Ergo, the allegations that there are EJKs in the Philippines remain hearsay," PNP spokesperson John Bulalacao said.

Cayetano: ‘We don’t need others to tell us what to do’

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Saturday issued strong words in response to the U.S. report.

"We do not need others who think they know better than us Filipinos to tell us what to do. As a sovereign nation, the Philippines deserves the same kind of respect we have been extending to our friends in the international community," he said in a statement.

He said the government notes the reports of other countries and organizations, but stressed that the country has its own processes and mechanisms. He added that the drug war actually seeks to protect Filipinos' human rights, "to save lives, to preserve families, to protect communities and stop the country from sliding into a narco-state."

"We assure the international community that in the conduct of our campaign, we will remain guided by the rule of law embodied in our Constitution, which also enshrines the country’s long-standing tradition of upholding human rights," he said.

Is gov't investigating killings?

The U.S. report noted that while Duterte "publicly rejected criticism of police killings...[he said] authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law."

The U.S. report said the government has investigated "a limited number" of reported human rights abuses. It, however, noted that the number of alleged EJKs vary depending on the investigating body's definitions.

The report cited data from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the government agency mandated to investigate human rights violations, showing it has investigated 139 cases of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 174 victims as of August 2017.

The CHR suspected the involvement of police and drug enforcement agents in 112 of these cases, and members of the armed forces or paramilitary in one case, the report said.

The International Criminal Court is conducting a preliminary examination on the country's drug war.

What are EJKs?

Malacañang has said there are no EJKs under the Duterte administration. In October 2017, it said it still follows the definition of EJKs in the operational guidelines of Administrative Order No. 35, which created an inter-agency committee on extralegal killings in 2012.

Under this order, a killing is considered extrajudicial when "the victim was targeted and killed because of the actual or perceived membership, advocacy, or profession."

Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued these guidelines in April 2013.

De Lima, now a senator fighting the Duterte administration and detained over drug charges, has filed a bill seeking to define and end extrajudicial killings.

Senate Bill 1197 defines extrajudicial killing as "the unlawful, and deliberate killing of targeted individuals or groups thereof, carried out by agents of the State and under its order or acquiescence in lieu of arrest, investigation and prosecution."

"Extrajudicial killing includes summary killings perpetrated by private individuals for purposes of carrying out on their own or in the context of vigilantism, a campaign or policy of the State," it further states.