"Can we expect the Justice Department to cooperate fully with the Commission on Human Rights in making errant cops accountable?"
In a moment of candor uncommon among his colleagues in the Cabinet, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council in a video message last month that more than half of anti-drug operations launched by the police failed to comply with the rules of engagement and protocol.
That a top official of the administration would make such as admission was surprising, as the war on drugs had been one-half of Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promise in 2016 to eliminate the drug menace along with corruption within three to six months upon taking office. While Duterte had on occasion conceded that he had miscalculated the extent of the drug problem and that it would indeed take time to solve, he had always urged the police to continue with the anti-drug campaign with even more vigor despite reports of abuses and irregularities reaching Malacañang.
Today, nearly five years later, we have the first official admission that the Philippine National Police had indeed taken liberties with Duterte’s order to eliminate the drug menace and disregarded constitutional and legal safeguards in course of the war on d.
The figures speak for themselves: the PNP itself says some 6,000 drug suspects have been killed since 2016 up to the present because they fought back when ordered to surrender by police operatives.
We read about the “nanlaban” angle in every news report about police anti-drug operations, with pictures to boot of rusty and antiquated .38 caliber revolvers supposed to be the weapon of choice of drug traffickers.
I’m not sure if the 6,000 official body count in the war on drugs reported by the PNP as of last year differs from what its own Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management reported in 2018—23,327 homicide cases under investigation. The period covered by the PNP-DIDM was from July 1, 2016 to June 4, 2018. This translates to an average of 995 incidents monthly or 33 deaths daily during that two-year span.
Of the figure, 2,649 were considered drug-related but happened outside police raids, while 10,594 cases were non-drug related, according to the PNP. The remaining 10,084 cases have yet to be linked to any motive.
Secretary Guevarra told the UNHRC that his department found that in cases where drug suspects supposedly fought back, “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.”
Moreover, “it was also noted that among others, 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 the processing of the crime scene.”
But can we expect the DOJ to cooperate fully with the Commission on Human Rights in making errant cops accountable?
That, of course, remains to be seen.
At this point, it is relevant to quote at length what Cesar Gaviria, president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994, said in an opinion piece in the New York Times on February 7, 2017.
In his commentary, “President Duterte is repeating my mistakes,” Gaviria said: “Illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.”
“We Colombians know a thing or two about fighting drugs… My government and every administration since threw everything at the problem—from fumigating crops to jailing every drug pusher in sight. Not only did we fail to eradicate drug production, trafficking and consumption in Colombia, but we also pushed drugs and crime into neighboring countries.
“What do we propose? Well, for one, we do not believe that military hardware, repressive policing and bigger prisons are the answer… While the Filipino government has a duty to provide for the security of its people, there is a real risk that a heavy-handed approach will do more harm than good. There is no doubt that tough penalties are necessary to deter organized crime. But extrajudicial killings and vigilantism are the wrong ways to go…
“The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.”
I recall that this particular commentary in the respected NYT triggered an avalanche of undiluted bigotry and truly hateful responses from rabid Duterte supporters. But looking back, the unsolicited advice from the ex-Colombian president is wise counsel that this administration should very well take heed, if we want the drug menace to go away—or, at least, minimized.
A tacit admission that the war on illegal drugs is still a very serious problem after a bloody five years is the recent passage by the House of Representatives of a bill that does away with the constitutional provision that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban has already declared the bill as unconstitutional. Sen. Franklin Drilon, a former Justice Secretary, concurs with this view. Let’s see how the Senate votes on this controversial bill.