Press Release
July 8, 2020

Dispatch from Crame No. 840:
Sen. Leila M. de Lima on the DOJ-led panel to "review"
police killings in the drug war

Too late, too little and too weak. That's how I describe the DOJ-led panel that purportedly reviews the police killings in Duterte's so-called war on drugs. The formation of that inter-agency team was announced by Justice Secretary Guevarra, as the representative of the Philippine government, in response to the reports and statements made during the ongoing 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Too late. The move is nothing but Duterte's last-ditch attempt at throwing a monkey wrench to derail the work of the UNHRC and the International Criminal Court (ICC), through its Prosecutor, which are both being nudged by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a number of UN Special Rapporteurs to formally investigate the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in Duterte's "drug war" and other cases of gross violations of human rights in the Philippines. In her report to the UNHRC, the High Commissioner found that there is no rule of law and due process in the so-called "war on drugs", and that there has been a failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability.

In December 2016, I submitted to the Senate my dissenting report on the EJK probe, where I recommended, among others, the immediate establishment of an independent national investigation to be led by respected former Supreme Court justices. My recommendation fell on deaf ears. Earlier, in September of that same year, I introduced a proposed Senate resolution urging the Duterte administration to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions to conduct a country visit. Again, my proposal got nowhere.

Meanwhile, in a January 2019 study by Rappler of available PNP and DOJ data, it was found that the PNP did not at all investigate the 5,050 deaths from their own drug operations, citing the presumption of regularity and the infamous "nanlaban" doctrine. Of the 20,000 or more total deaths that resulted from the "war on drugs", the DOJ has only prosecuted 76 cases. In April 2019, FLAG reported that their review of an initial batch of 29 EJK cases showed a lack of genuine effort on the part of the government to investigate the incidents and to arrest the killers.

Too little. The work of the DOJ-led panel is circumscribed by its mandate to only review the killings by the police during their operations. It does not cover the killings done by other State-inspired death squads, the vigilantes. It does not also touch on other egregious crimes, such as torture, arbitrary detention, sexual assaults and others, that have been committed in Duterte's "war on drugs".

And, speaking of Duterte, he is instantly off the hook here, as he -- along with the co-architects of the drug war, and other masterminds of the mass murder of poor drug suspects -- is not within the ambit of the panel's review. An independent body of higher mandate, and not Executive-controlled, is what is called for.

Too weak. In SOJ Guevarra's own words, the panel will conduct a "judicious review" of deaths during police operations. This "review" is definitely not the preliminary investigation that the DOJ regularly conducts on criminal cases, not even evidence-gathering or case build-up, that can lead to prosecution of the accused in courts. Primarily, the reviewing panel "re-evaluates cases and examines the propriety of reinvestigating them." This is a circuitous and cumbersome exercise that nowhere amounts to a formal investigative or prosecutorial process. In short: a shallow and listless initiative.

This is not even the first time that the Duterte regime proposed something to make it appear that they're addressing the EJK issue. Then SOJ Vitaliano Aguirre announced the proposed creation of a specialized office for extralegal killings during the congressional hearings for the 2018 budget. Something that never materialized.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) imposes upon all State-Parties, which include the Philippines, the "general obligation to investigate allegations of violations promptly, thoroughly and effectively through independent and impartial bodies." In all the four (4) years that Duterte has been in power, there has never been any prompt, thorough and effective investigation of EJKs and other rights abuses. No independent and impartial body conducting such a probe. It is clear that this government has been in serious breach of this international obligation. No amount of obfuscation, disinformation and propaganda can change that fact.

Unless and until we see any actual, significant and concrete achievements, in terms of case build-up and prosecution of EJK offenders, the sincerity of this initiative will remain dubious at best. For the moment, this representation will just call it as it is: a desperate, last-minute attempt at evading accountability.

#EndImpunityNow #InvestigateDuterte

(Access the handwritten copy of Dispatch from Crame No. 840, here:

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