Rights group welcomes Supreme Court order to release drug war documents

On April 2, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the government to release documents on the thousands of death under the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics campaign. Human rights and media groups have estimated that more than 20,000 Filipinos have been killed under Duterte’s drug war campaign. Per information from the Philippine National Police (PNP), they claimed some 5,000 deaths as a result of “legitimate” police operations in line with the war on drugs. The rest of the cases are considered deaths under investigation.

“We welcome the Supreme Court decision to make documents on police operations in line with the government’s war on drugs available to the public. Said police operations have repeatedly been cited for irregularities resulting in deaths under highly questionable circumstances. This move by the SC should pave the way for a thorough investigation of the incidents that will conceivably put an end to police impunity,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.  

Lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), after due study of the documents released to them, noted that “police documents across all 23 operations-related killings used strikingly similar, almost verbatim, language to describe the killings.” FLAG added that the reports concluded with police officers killing the suspects because they “sensed that their lives were in danger” after they were allegedly fired at. Other documents have yet to be made available to the public. 

“This breaking down of the police’s narrative and usual script to justify the killings will be a vindication for the victims and their families. Kin of victims and eyewitness accounts have, time and again, refuted the claims of policemen who used the ‘nanlaban’ narrative. The establishment of a pattern in the killings will reveal that this is indeed a systematic operation to crackdown on the poor, justified by pathological lying and the deliberate disregard for the people’s right to due process. It will give credence to the claims that the police have indeed become the government’s own death squad,” added Palabay.

The Karapatan secretary general also emphasized the failure of the sham drug war, what with the President himself admitting that the situation has worsened. “The statistics on drug users, drug supply and prices relayed by government officials indicate that the drug war has been ineffective in curbing the illegal drug trade. In sum, it is a failure. We have repeatedly criticized this policy, insisting that such a militarist policy will not work, and that implementing socio-economic programs that will resolve the root causes of poverty will gain a more sustainable outcome. A human rights based approach to rooting out the drug problem in the country is possible,” she noted.  

Palabay also criticized the efforts of the Office of the Solicitor General to block the release of said documents. Solicitor General Jose Calida even filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the court. Calida insisted that these documents should only be between the government and the Court, adding that this move by the SC will have serious repercussions on police operations and on our national security.

“The OSG and Calida are frantic. Regardless of Calida’s foreboding statements, these documents will be an anchor for the search for justice. As Judge Rodolfo Asuzena Jr. of the Caloocan court said in his decision to convict the police officers involved in the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August 2017: ‘The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life.’ The police force and the militarists in Duterte’s government should listen. As for the injustices already committed against thousands of Filipinos, the people will continue to hound these murderers,” Palabay ended.