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DOJ Tells UN Human Rights Council: Police Officers Failed To Follow Protocols In Many Drug War Operations

DOJ Tells UN Human Rights Council: Police Officers Failed To Follow Protocols In Many Drug War Operations
The bodies of two suspected drug pushers killed in a drug sting in Manila are carried into a police vehicle on Oct. 7, 2016. Photo by Edd Gumban, The Philippine STAR

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Wednesday, Feb. 24, that police officers did not follow protocols in  many of their drug war operations.

It can be recalled that in June last year, Guevarra informed the UNHRC during its 44th session in Geneva, Switzerland about Department of Justice’s creation of an inter-agency panel that would review over 5,600 police anti-drug operations since 2016 wherein deaths occurred.

Speaking at the 46th UNHRC session in Geneva on Wednesday, Guevarra said a contingent from the DOJ were able to examine available records in certain key areas and cities where most of the deaths during illegal drug operations were recorded despite challenges to physical mobility and access to case files due to the coronavirus pandemic and the devastating typhoons that hit the Philippines in the last few months of 2020.

The areas covered were Bulacan, including the City San Jose del Monte; Cavite, including Bacoor City; and parts of National Capital Region.

“Our initial and preliminary findings confirm that in many of these cases, law enforcement agents asserted that the subject of the anti- drug operations 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 undertaken, and no request for ballistic examination or paraffin test was pursued until its completion,” Guevarra said.

“It was also noted, among others, that 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 processing of the crime scene,” he added.

According to Guevarra, peace, justice and human rights are interrelated pursuits and an integral part to the Philippine commitment to human rights is the continuous strengthening of its domestic accountability mechanisms.

This, while standing firm on the President Duterte’s promise to protect the nation from illegal drugs, a campaign widely supported by the people, Guevarra noted.

Guevarra said the DOJ has referred its initial findings to the Philippine National Police authorities “and we have been informed that the appropriate internal investigation of thousands of these incidents had been conducted, and scores of police officers had been recommended for administrative and criminal action.”

“ 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 disciplinary authorities, and that measures are adopted to avoid loss of lives during legitimate law enforcement operations against illegal drugs,” Guevarra stressed.

 Internal matters

During the 44th session of the UNHRC,  the DOJ chief said the Philippines also committed to engage more closely with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

The CHR earlier lamented its exclusion from the DOJ’s review panel.

“In pursuit of this commitment, we have initiated discussions with the CHR on how we could collaborate in the work of the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, more particularly in case build-up and evidence gathering,” Guevarra stated.

“We have also agreed to work together for the early passage of a law that will establish our National Preventive Mechanism, as mandated under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture,” he said.

The Philippines strongly emphasizes that its legal and judicial system and domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should, Guevarra noted.

“We reject any attempt by any external entity to assume jurisdiction over internal matters which are being addressed more than adequately by our national institutions and authorities,” he underscored.

But Guevarra said global threats such as illegal drugs, terrorism, and the coronavirus pandemic pose common challenges that the world community must confront together to overcome.

He enjoined the UNHRC to uphold the primacy of dialogue and cooperation, “as it carries out its important mandate and noble duty to the community of nations.”

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