US State Department report retains EJK as chief human rights concern in the Philippines

By Roy Mabasa

Extrajudicial killings related to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” campaign remain as the chief human rights concern in the Philippines although fatalities fell dramatically when the government temporarily suspended the operations in October 2017 and only to resume in December of the same year, according to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2018 released by the US State Department on Thursday (Wednesday in Washington, D.C.).

“President Duterte continued his anti-crime campaign, specifically targeting the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics. Fatalities fell dramatically following the PNP’s suspension of the counternarcotics campaign in accordance with a presidential memorandum in October 2017. The president reversed the suspension in December 2017 and reported extrajudicial killings increased, but to a lower level than prior to the suspension,” the US State Department said in the report.

Policemen stand guard near the body of a man killed during what police said was a drug related vigilante killing in Pasig, February 2017. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro / MANILA BULLETIN)
Policemen stand guard near the body of a man killed during what police said was a drug related vigilante killing in Pasig, February 2017. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO /Erik De Castro / MANILA BULLETIN)

Citing various sources as the basis for its latest human rights report, the US State Department said Philippine government security agencies and their informal allies “committed arbitrary or unlawful killings” in connection with the government-directed war on drugs campaign.

From the period of July 2016 to July 2018, it said that law enforcement agencies reported an average of six persons killed daily in anti-drug operations.

“The 105,658 anti-drug operations conducted from July 2016 to September 2018 led to the deaths of 4,854 civilians and 87 members of the security forces,” the US government report said.

It added that killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by antigovernment insurgents and unknown assailants also continued.

According to the report, the Philippine government data on the anti-drug campaign were provided through #RealNumbersPH, operated by the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs.

In addition, the report cited a discrepancy in the number of alleged extrajudicial killings provided by government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) due to the use of different definitions.

For instance, it said the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) investigated 301 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 387 victims as of August (2018), including 70 cases of drug-related extrajudicial killings involving 90 victims.

The CHR is an independent constitutional body responsible for probing human rights violations in the Philippines.

“The CHR suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) involvement in 208 of these new complaints and the armed forces (AFP) or paramilitary personnel in 19 cases,” the report said.

Also, the US State Department report said civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings.

Moreover, the US report on human rights made mention of President Duterte’s so-called “narco list” which include the names of government, police, military officials, and members of the judiciary and some 96 politicians.

Just recently, President Duterte ordered the Department of Interior and Local Government to release the names of narco politicians ahead of the May 2019 midterm elections.

The State Department report will be submitted to the U.S. Congress, taking into account countries’ human rights and worker rights performance in various countries. It addresses situations and events in calendar year 2018 only.