Side event: Human rights challenge: One year after, extrajudicial killings continue

Message by Senator Leila M. De Lima: A pleasant day to everyone. From Camp Crame in Manila, I extend my warm greetings to the organizers, fellow speakers and participants of this side event aptly titled: Human Rights Challenge: Drug War Extrajudicial Killings Continue. I am grateful for this invitation to engage with you on the occasion of the 61st Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drug here in Vienna.  I also wish to extend my appreciation for your continued concern regarding human rights violations related to the ongoing war on drugs in the Philippines.

Duterte’s war on drugs continues without let up despite the absence of any moral or legal justification. It continues to be operationalized by the police force without adherence to due process and the rule of law. Extrajudicial killings or state-sanctioned murders as a result thereof continue to be committed with impunity.  As of this writing, rights groups estimate that there are around 13,000 reported cases of extrajudicial killings committed in the name of this war.  This number is presumably higher if we consider those that remain unreported, out of fear of the victims’ families or refusal by government to acknowledge that they are extrajudicial killings.

A few months back, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines stated that the “death toll in drug war is higher than what the government suggests.”  But actually, in the Duterte administration’s 2017 Year-End Key Accomplishments Report, the Department of Interior of Local Government (DILG), in “Fighting Illegal Drugs” section, it was stated that a total of 20,322 were killed under the war on drugs.

Out of this sheer number and continuing death toll, only a handful is being investigated and prosecuted. The families of victims do not have immediate access to effective remedy because government fails or is unable to provide such. Even human rights defenders who investigate the killings are threatened by Duterte himself when he ordered the police to “shoot the advocates if they obstruct justice.”

Yes, the war on drugs still continues to target and victimize low-level dealers and users from the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors of Philippine society. It fails to target, as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach, the middle and big operational layers of the problem. Big time drug suppliers remain scot free and even the names of those close to Duterte have been dragged into yet another shipment of billions of peso-worth of illegal drugs.  Corruption in government and law enforcement agencies has likewise not been addressed and compounds the problem.

The President continues to fail to see the country’s drug problem as a public health issue which needs an entirely different set of approaches.  He is bent on resolving the drug problem in his own unjustified way, at the expense of the rule of law and human rights and despite the lessons learned by countries which adopted the same hard stance against the drug menace and failed.

How many more lives are going to be cut short? How many more Filipino families are going to suffer? How far will my country regress in the name of Duterte’s war on drugs? Until when do we reach the tipping point and say, as a collective people, enough is enough?

With my fellow human rights advocates, I urge the international community to continue to condemn and sanction the Duterte government for its conduct of this war.   Recently, the International Criminal Court opened its preliminary examination into allegations of crimes against humanity committed by Duterte in his war on drugs.  I welcome this development. It is an initial step to demand accountability for the violations committed by the highest official of the land. Quoting Phil Robertson of the Human Rights Watch Asia Division, the ICC “absolutely should initiate a full investigation into these alleged crimes because to date, there has been no serious attempt to investigate them by the Philippines police or prosecutors, much less take suspected killers to court.”

I would like to share with the group some initiatives of my office that seek to address not just the country’s drug problem but also seek accountability on the multitude of abuses in the context of Duterte’s illegal and immoral war on drugs.

As early as 2016, we have filed Senate Resolution No.9 that called for an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the rampant extrajudicial killings and summary executions of suspected criminals, to strengthen the mechanisms of accountability of law enforcers, and to institute corrective legislative measures to ensure full respect for basic human rights, especially right to life.  Unfortunately, after I was ousted from the chairmanship of the Justice and Human Rights Committee tasked to conduct such investigation, said committee concluded that the killings are not state-sponsored. I strongly disputed this finding in my own Dissenting Report submitted to the committee.

Further, we proposed Senate Resolution Nos. 357, 358 , 421, 451, which seek the investigation of the alleged involvement of police officers in cases of extrajudicial killings and the concealment of the same.

We likewise proposed legislative measures that a.) defines extrajudicial killings as a crime; b.) defines cadaver desecration as a crime; c.) mandates regular drug testing in correctional and penal institutions; d.) institutionalizes Human Rights as a separate and specialized subject in basic and higher education.

We likewise filed the appropriate Senate Resolution No. 153,  urging the executive department to extend an invitation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to visit the country to look into the extrajudicial killings and summary executions amidst the administration’s war on drugs.

Let us all unite against Duterte’s immoral and illegal war on drugs. Let us all say NO to extrajudicial killings committed in its name and demand accountability for this government’s failure to adhere to the rule of law and human rights. Mabuhay tayong lahat! Thank you.

Dave Borden. I am Dave Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org. We organised a similar event last year, which featured a video of the senator which let to a lot of discussion, and succeeded in the discussion on the war on drugs. Today we have the Philippines with us here today. Parco Peduco will introduce our fellow panellists.

Marco Peduca. Over the last 48h, the Philippines has withdrawn from the ICC, it is a complicated procedure and includes constitutional steps. Parliament also has a say and it is not automatic. The Philippines for now remains under the jurisdiction of the ICC. If it weren’t for the side event form last year and for the work of all NGOs working on the issue, this would not have happened. We touched a nerve here. Last year, we had presence of No Peace Without Justice, who are still working on a dossier which will be shared if nothing happens within the court – then things will continue outside the court. I met for the first time Senator Trillanes last year when we discussed the death penalty. This is taking us back to the 1980s-1990s. You have other policies taking place such as extrajudicial killings, etc. The problem here is that we’re not only going back 20 years, we are going back 65 years: why was the war on drugs launched? It was not to target drugs, it was to target other segments of society. Senator Trillanes was indicted last night for sedition. This does not belong to a democratic society.

Senator Trillanes. In 2015, President Duterte said this proudly on national TV: comparing ‘drug addicts’ as the Jews of World War II and the fact that, as Hitler, he will eradicate them and ‘save the country’ by slaughtering them. He made similar statements throughout the past year. On 10 February 2017, he made some statements on fentanyl. This is now the most dangerous drug in North America. This statement by Duterte defines the state of play in the Philippines: he admits to using fentanyl while calling for killing all those involved in drugs.

How many are dead exactly? The government says 4,000. Human rights groups say at least 13,000. The Duterte administration’s end of year report for 2017 is a reference here. On p. 22 of the document, under the accomplishments of the department of interior (which supervises the national police), under the section on fighting illegal drugs, it lists at least 3,000 persons who died in 2017. These are the cases of those who allegedly resisted arrest. But more than 16,000 of homicide cases are under investigation between July 2016 and 2017. Most are for drug-related cases. Many bodies had ‘tags’ on them: ‘I am a drug pusher, don’t be like me’. This accomplishment report was reported in the press, in CBN news, GMA, the Inquirer, and even on the official Facebook page of the Philippines National Police. These are the same numbers: 20,322 is the total number of deaths under Duterte’s war on drugs. The police admit there are no longer any vigilante killings, these are state-sponsored deaths. This is all reported as an accomplishment. The ICC would be really interested in this piece of information. Can you imagine the president of any country citing the deaths of his fellow citizens as an accomplishment?

Those suspected of being drug addicts are not even given the chance to be tested and rehabilitated, and reformed. What is unfortunate is that the majority that Duterte authorities are turning a blind eye to the deaths as they are thinking of eradicating drugs. But many people who are innocent are dead, just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Almost 30 children were killed in the so-called war on drugs: Sanino was hit by a bullet in December. Danica was the granddaughter of a drug surrenderer who was killed during a shooting of her grandfather. Althea died when she and her father were shot by policemen. Francisco died in his house when his father was shot. Aside from those directly killed, there are also orphans. According to the assistant secretary on social welfare and development, almost 18,000 children lost their parents to the war on drugs. Joaquim Garbo had 10 children before he was killed in the war on drugs. This had a bad effect on his kids who want to take revenge, who are traumatised.

What is perplexing about this war is that it is unforgiving to the poor, but is lenient against the big drug warriors. Duterte promoted the DOJ prosecutor who handled the shabu smuggling case. The DOJ also cleared a suspected drug lord, who is a friend of Duterte himself.

It is clear that this is not a real war against drugs as claimed by Duterte. So what is this for? Based on our analysis, this is a diabolical plan of controlling every segment of society. It is meant to strike fear in the people for manipulation. In 20 months, Duterte has weakened all democratic institutions and has control over all of society, he has arrested the opposition. He now also has a case against me for sedition. This is how the courts are now working. He has harassed the media, the church, the Supreme Court chief, and has corrupted the police. There is now a perpetual martial law now, and he is trying to amend the constitution to remain in power after his mandate. This is all part of a dictator’s path to power.

The question is: how do we get out of this mess? The international media is very helpful. The government is forced to step back and we are grateful. But the killings continue. We ask that you continue to monitor the situation and that you urge the government to protect human rights. We filed a communication against the ICC. The ICC will conduct a preliminary examination of this and hope this will lead to the eventual arrest of Duterte. Duterte withdrew from the ICC. But thankfully for us, this will only take effect a year after the notification – and the ICC case will continue.

Why is Duterte still so popular? He is now less popular than ever. Filipinos know right from wrong and we have a tipping point. We know our fate is in our hands, and Duterte is one evil man who is in the wrong side of history.

Marco. Two heads of state have called for the death penalty to be used for drug offences, but these are in the wrong side of history. I want to introduce Hassan Bassi from Forum Droghe who has raised awareness of the issue in Italy.

Ellecer (Budit) Carlos, IDefend. Thank you so much for the opportunity of being here and for StoptheDrugWar.org for the ongoing support. IDefend was established in August 2016 to respond to the mass killings and to provide refuge for the many families of victims of extrajudicial killings. The share information and dispel the myths Duterte is spreading and contribute to Filipinos breaking the silence. We have a huge Filipino work force. We are all aware of the drug war operating outside the rule of law. It is the worse human rights crisis since Marcos times. Duterte established a permission structure for mass murder. He redefined the rules of impunity and institutionalised it. He spread the idea that the crisis can be solved by extermination and contempt for the rule of law, and forced quotas for police officers. He dehumanised drug dependence as the inconvenient sector, Hitler-style. Killing the undesired has led to the deaths of 12,000 but probably way more, by police vigilantes. High officials from the land can dissociate themselves from the killings. This focuses mostly on the most impoverished and vulnerable individuals. We have provided for compassionate solutions which have been effective elsewhere, whereas the war on drugs has never worked anywhere. We must invest in life in dignity. It’s clear that there is a direct relation between the decrease in crime and the improvement in the lives of the poor and reduced inequality.

Instead of listening, he demonised human rights advocates, values and principles, and has defined us as the enemy. He has promoted the narrative that the world will never be safe without this strategy. He ordered the police to shoot if we obstruct justice. He said he would ‘harvest’ us with ‘addicts’ if we push him.

Contempt of the rule of law undermines democratic institutions, transforms police into butchers, undermines the human rights advances from the past 30 years. This is damaging civil behaviour. Duterte extended the drug war to 2022. The dormant death squad has been unleashed. The Senator has said it: the drug war is a tool to advance the authoritarian agenda, it is dictatorial and destroys Filipino society.

Two political projects now are being proposed that further undermine checks and balances with martial law. There is also a well oiled propaganda machinery. It is efficient in sewing misperceptions and lies and shaping public opinion. He has made full use of political persecution of those representing our checks and balances, made comments to bring back the ‘golden age of Marcos times’. He has promoted the work of extremist nationalist groups who are publicly funded.

Our challenges are enormous and unprecedented. We are threatened as the next target. We need to reclaim our collective apathy. Death squad epidemic can be used against us at any time. A lot of us are in the interest list and a task now is to expose the social agenda of Duterte. We need to make sure that our Filipinos do not follow the example of the Germans under the Hitler era. We have campaigned for the Philippines to be suspended from the Human Rights Council and an investigation should be led on the killings. The killings of political and social activists have already begun. Duterte is waiting for the pretext to martial law nationwide.

Questions and answers:

Judith Yates, IDHDP. We have 1,600 doctors part of our network and some are from the Philippines. In this CND, we are launching international standards for the treatment of drug use disorders and it is shocking to hear what is happening.

Speaker. You are giving a fake idea of what is happening in the Philippines. The 16,000 are under investigation and your addition to 20,000 is dubious. 85% of Filipinos are still supporting the President, because they feel safer now. There is Martial Law in Mindanao and we feel we are protected against communists and ISIS. The senator is falsely leading us to believe what he has is right. Drug dealers and drug laws are not armless, they have guns, they are willing to kill police. They are using the legal engagement on how to deal with criminals and how to take care of the criminals. Our drug laws in the Philippines have arms. You are painting the Philippines in a bad scenario. How about the rights of the victims?

Senator. This data comes from the Philippines data. I understand where you are coming from. You are not privy to the data we have, and we are looking at the situation on the ground. If you saw what we have seen, you would probably see the situation in a different way. Wait until the next survey comes. Some day we may be on the same side.

Budit. December 2016: the national police have been bragging about the figures which was 4000. Also, there is a huge silent majority and the 84% is beefed up. It’s the train that is turning things over. A law caused the spike of basic commodities in the Philippines.

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