US urges Phl: Probe drug EJKs

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By HE­LEN FLORES

The US govern­ment has urged the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to pur­sue in­ves­ti­ga­tions of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in the govern­ment’s war on il­le­gal drugs “whether they’re com­mit­ted by law en­force­ment or of a vig­i­lante na­ture.”

Pa­trick Mur­phy, deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for South­east Asia, told a press brief­ing that the grow­ing num­ber of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in the Philip­pines is “trou­bling.” While it rec­og­nized the

coun­try’s “se­ri­ous chal­lenge” with il­licit nar­cotics, the US govern­ment has “very sus­tained and deep con­cern when el­e­ments of the drug war are op­er­at­ing out­side the rule of law,” he said.

“We are urg­ing the Philip­pines to fol­low up on its com­mit­ment to in­ves­ti­gate ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, whether they’re com­mit­ted by law en­force­ment or of a vig­i­lante na­ture. So I think those con­cerns are quite sus­tained,” Mur­phy said.

He said the US govern­ment is will­ing to support the Philip­pines on its drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram.

Ac­cord­ing to a Reuters report, more than 8,000 peo­ple, mostly petty drug users and deal­ers, have been killed in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­ti­il­le­gal drug cam­paign since Pres­i­dent Duterte took of­fice on June 30 last year.

Po­lice said about a third of the victims were shot by of­fi­cers in self-de­fense. Hu­man rights groups be­lieve many of the re­main­ing two-thirds were killed by paid as­sas­sins co­op­er­at­ing with the po­lice or by po­lice them­selves, dis­guised as vig­i­lantes. The govern­ment and po­lice re­ject that.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philip­pines shared the con­cern of the US and said au­thor­i­ties “fol­low op­er­a­tional pro­to­cols” and those who breached pro­ce­dures were made to an­swer be­fore the law.

“We ex­pect fair­ness and not a rush to judg­ment,” Abella said in a state­ment.

Abella said per­sis­tent news report about close to 9,000 peo­ple be­ing killed in the drug war “is false news.”

From July un­til March 24, Abella said po­lice recorded more than 6,000 peo­ple had been killed, clas­si­fied as cases un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but only 1,398 of the deaths were found to be drug-re­lated.

Abella’s fig­ure did not in­clude more than 2,600 peo­ple killed in po­lice op­er­a­tions.

Re­cur­ring is­sue

In re­ac­tion to Mur­phy’s state­ment, the De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs (DFA) said the govern­ment is not set­ting aside al­le­ga­tions of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war on drugs.

“The govern­ment has been firm in its con­dem­na­tion of ex­tra­ju­di­cial ju­di­cial killings,” DFA spokesman Robe­spierre Bo­li­var said.

“The Pres­i­dent him­self al­ready called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion of those in­volved in such killings,” he said.

Bo­li­var main­tained the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s il­le­gal drug cam­paign is waged with firm ad­her­ence to the coun­try’s es­tab­lished hu­man rights prin­ci­ples and in ac­cor­dance with the rule of law.

Duterte was in­fu­ri­ated by US ex­pres­sions of con­cern about ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings after he took of­fice last year and threat­ened to sever the long-stand­ing US de­fense al­liance.

The Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights (CHR), how­ever, de­clined to com­ment on the Reuters report.

Asked if the com­mis­sion has gath­ered sim­i­lar re­ports in the course of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion, CHR com­mis­sioner Gwen­dolyn Pi­mentel-Gana said she could not is­sue a state­ment as their probe is still on­go­ing.

“I will not for the mo­ment make a cat­e­gor­i­cal state­ment on whether or not there have been such al­le­ga­tions since our in­ves­ti­ga­tion is still on­go­ing,” Gana said in a text message to The STAR.

Gana is lead­ing a task force in charge of in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether there are hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted in re­la­tion to the death of sus­pected drug sus­pects dur­ing po­lice op­er­a­tions.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is cur­rently cov­er­ing over 800 deaths, in­clud­ing both those who died in po­lice op­er­a­tions and victims of al­leged vig­i­lante killings.

On Tuesday, Reuters re­leased a report quot­ing two po­lice of­fi­cials who claimed that mem­bers of the Philip­pine National Po­lice (PNP) have or­ches­trated the killings.

The report said po­lice of­fi­cers re­ceived re­wards for killing sus­pected drug push­ers.

The find­ings echoed those made by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch, which linked the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to the killings.

CHR chair­man Chito Gas­con con­firmed re­ceiv­ing a copy of the Reuters report and said they are look­ing into the al­le­ga­tions.

“We should do all we can to fol­low any lead that could ul­ti­mately shed light on th­ese killings with the view to ul­ti­mately hold­ing the per­pe­tra­tors ac­count­able,” he was quoted as say­ing.

The PNP has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and dared the un­named sources in the Reuters report to come out.

“They should man up and not hide be­hind a white cloth. They are for­mer and cur­rent mem­bers of the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” PNP spokesman Se­nior Supt. Dionardo Car­los said on Wednesday.

“There’s no such order or in­struc­tions com­ing from the lead­er­ship,” he added.

PNP chief Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Ron­ald dela Rosa de­scribed the Reuters report as a cre­ation of the for­eign me­dia, say­ing the two anony­mous po­lice of­fi­cers should come out in the open.

He lamented the PNP has to de­fend it­self from ac­cu­sa­tions com­ing from anony­mous sources.

He called the two sup­posed po­lice of­fi­cers as cow­ards for go­ing to the press in­stead of air­ing their griev­ances in the proper fo­rum.

Dela Rosa said Washington should just al­low them to do their job in car­ry­ing out Pres­i­dent Duterte’s man­date of wip­ing out il­le­gal drugs and crim­i­nal­ity.

He said he is fed up with com­ment­ing on what he de­scribed as a “re­cur­ring is­sue.”

“I’m al­ready tired an­swer­ing that. Just tell them I don’t work for them, I work for the Filipino peo­ple so I don’t have to be dis­tracted by their com­ments,” Dela Rosa said.

Despite Pres­i­dent Duterte’s re­peated state­ments threat­en­ing to kill drug push­ers, Gana last month said they have yet to find ev­i­dence that would prove the sum­mary killings are state-spon­sored.

She later clar­i­fied that they are not rul­ing out any­thing, as their in­ves­ti­ga­tion is still on­go­ing. – With Jan­vic Ma­teo, Em­manuel Tupas, Alexis Romero, Reuters

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