Protocols not followed in drug war, DOJ probe shows

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 24) - Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said initial findings from the panel tasked to probe the killings that had marked the administration's war on drugs, showed that law enforcement failed to follow protocols during anti-illegal drug operations.

Facing the United Nations Human Rights Council, Guevarra said state forces asserted in many cases that the suspects in these deadly operations resisted arrest or fought back. However, the inter-agency review panel led by the Department of Justice discovered that there were no full examinations made on the weapons allegedly used by the suspects, nor was there any effort to verify the weapons' ownership.

"It was also noted that among others, in more than half of the records reviewed, the law enforcement agents involved failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene," said the secretary.

Guevarra said the report has been forwarded to police officials, who in turn informed him that they have begun internal investigations and recommended administrative and criminal actions.

"It is now the immediate task of the review panel to ensure that these recommendations have been acted upon and carried out by the proper disciplinarian authorities," said the justice chief.

Guevarra created the panel in June 2020, following a report from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, that found "serious human rights violations" in police operations under the Duterte administration. That time, Guevarra said the panel will look into all 5,655 anti-drug operations that resulted in deaths. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has been known for his ironclad stance against illegal drugs that launched a bloody war at the beginning of his term. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency counted 5,903 deaths in drug-related operations from July 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2020, but figures from human rights advocates reached up to 27,000 "extrajudicial" killings. 

The Human Rights Watch said the DOJ's report only told that the department was "asleep" when the drug war killings intensified, as the lapses in protocol have already been "obvious" to affected communities.

The organization blamed the President who in the past had repeatedly encouraged the killing of druglords and drug suspects and even assured police of their legal protection. Duterte had maintained that he will take responsibility for all the lives lost in his notorious war on drugs.

"The failures to investigate these killings were baked into the 'drug war' model from the start, with the police prepared to act because they knew that not only can [they] get away with it, but that they're supposed to get away with it," said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's Deputy Asia Director.

Robertson called for transparency from the police on its internal investigations and punitive measures against officers found at fault. He also urged the DOJ to ensure its recommendations will be followed.