Three years on, no ‘meaningful accountability’ for extrajudicial killings in PH – Amnesty International

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 8) — Amnesty International slammed the lack of “meaningful accountability” among Philippine officials for the so-called extrajudicial executions since the beginning of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

The extrajudicial killings have been part of the President’s war against illegal drugs, which local and international rights groups believe to have killed more than 20,000 people — contrary to government data which reports the death toll to be around 6,600. 

“There has been no meaningful accountability at the national level for the thousands of extrajudicial executions that have taken place over the last three years. Only a single case – caught on video – has been brought to justice, leading to the conviction in November 2018 of three police officers who murdered 17- year-old Kian delos Santos,” Amnesty International said in its report, "They Just Kill," released Monday morning.

The group said this prosecution is “in no way commensurate to the vast number of extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations” since the onset of the drug war.

In its report, Amnesty International studied 20 incidents of 27 drug-related killings in Bulacan between May 2018 and April 2019. The findings were based on interviews with 58 people, and a review of government circulars and memorandum.

The group had also sought comment from the Philippine National Police -- the pioneers of the anti-drug campaign in 2016 and linked to the summary executions -- but has not responded as of the publication.

The ‘buy-bust’ script

Amnesty International, a London-based nongovernment organization focused on human rights, has slammed the 'buy-bust' narrative being used as a template of police reports in Bulacan province whenever a supposed drug suspect is killed in an anti-illegal drugs operation.

“This so-called ‘buy-bust’ narrative doesn’t meet the feeblest standards of credibility. As a forensic expert put it to Amnesty International, this justification ‘is so consistent, it’s a script,’, the report read.

An eyewitness account quoted in the report said the “buy-bust” narrative abetted the police planting drug-related evidence against people.

The human rights group also noted the increase in the number of deaths in Bulacan after PCol. Chito Bersaluna became the provincial police director. Bersaluna was the police chief in Caloocan City when 17-year-old delos Santos was killed in an anti-illegal drugs operation.

“A closer look shows that several commanders who previously held posts in Metro Manila when it was the region where most drug-related killings were reported have been promoted and are now at the helm in various positions in Bulacan and the wider Central Luzon region,” it said.

Amnesty International also hit the failure of police to inform the families of those killed in the drug war, as well as the increased difficulty of obtaining police reports in order to file cases against erring police.

“In at least two police accounts reviewed by Amnesty International, the police listed IDs among other items found on the alleged suspect they had killed – yet in both cases, families told Amnesty International they were not properly informed by authorities,” it read.

This is in contrast to the information sent to journalists regarding the deaths, which indicate the names and addresses of the alleged drug suspects.

The group also hit how the government narco list -- which included high-ranking Philippine officials -- continue to “be drawn up.”

“It is clear that the lists are not the product of a fair legal process,” it read. “Rather than verifiable evidence, the lists reflect the barangay captains’ personal and informal knowledge of local ‘drug personalities,’ as well as information they have collected from their contacts and others, which might be little more than rumour.”

Call to action

Amnesty International reiterated its call to end the bloody drug war in the Philippines, and urged the International Criminal Court to expedite the probe into the anti-illegal narcotics campaign.

It also recommended that other countries must “use all diplomatic and political tools” to put pressure on the Philippines to put a stop to all of these human rights violations.

“The Philippine authorities have consistently failed to credibly investigate and prosecute those responsible for killings as a result of anti-drug operations or by unknown armed persons,” it said.

Amnesty International also called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to immediately initiate an independent, impartial and effective investigation into human rights violations in the context of the “war on drugs,” including into the commission of crimes under international law.

President Duterte has repeatedly said he does not tolerate extrajudicial killings perpetuated by the police, but at the same time vowed to protect government troops who carry out his anti-drug campaign.

His administration said the fight against illegal drugs will remain steadfast to protect innocent Filipinos.