Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly controversial war on drugs may have critical flaws in the execution of police operations.
But groups critical of the administration said the admission was a “smokescreen” intended to shield the “principal enablers” of extrajudicial killing and put the blame of ordinary policemen.
Secretary Guevarra said half of the police operations being reviewed by a panel that he leads “failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene.”
He highlighted the claim of the Philippine National Police that many drug suspects were killed because they “resisted arrest or attempted to draw a weapon and fight back.”
“Yet, no full examination of the weapon recovered was conducted. No verification of its ownership was undertaken. No request for ballistic examination or paraffin test was pursued until its completion,” Guevarra said.
The secretary assured the UNHRC that relevant agencies have been reviewing the reports and several policemen have already been recommended for prosecution.
Guevarra gave a presentation during the UNHRC’s 46th regular session that opened on Feb. 22.
The council holds regular sessions to assess the human rights situation in United Nations’ member-states.
Meanwhile, Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said Guevarra’s report “dodged the fundamental and more crucial question: Why did these extrajudicial killings (EJKs) happen in the first place and why are they continuing with impunity?”
He said the report “wittingly or unwittingly diverts the primary and sole blame on lowly police operatives while insulating and saving the principal enablers of EJKs.”
Olalia said President Duterte and other top officials “goaded, tolerated, sanctioned, condoned and justified the EJKs.”
“More than the elegant rhetoric and apparently smokescreen findings, the government report must be matched with concrete and measurable effective remedies or accountability mechanisms for the victims,” he added.
Amnesty International-Philippines agreed with NUPL. Butch Olano, section director of Amnesty International-Philippines, said the Philippine report was filled with “astounding contradictions.”
“While asserting that the country’s legal and judicial systems are functioning as they should, [Guevarra] openly admitted that the PNP failed to process crime scenes and had not examined weapons that were allegedly used by [drug]suspects, nor carry out other basic protocols in antidrug operations in the past four years.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: “The justice secretary’s statement … shows the Department of Justice and senior police were asleep at the switch as the drug war killings accelerated and intensified.”
HRW-Geneva director John Fisher concurred by saying “the justice secretary tried to show that their findings are proof of what he called ‘functioning accountability mechanisms.”
“Concerned governments should not be fooled by this unconvincing attempt to head off a Human Rights Council investigation,” Fisher added.