Seniors officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) appeared before media a day after the widely reported shootout between policemen and anti-drug agents to confess the obvious – they had no clue what happened and why it happened.
All they had, they said, were theories on why the operation went awry. “Neither agency has an exact notion of what went wrong and what should have been done,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
Four have been reported dead, among them decorated police officers, in what has been described as a misencounter. The law enforcers exchanged gunfire in a fast-food outlet in a mall teeming with people. It was pure luck that no civilian was wounded.
For many, the shootout aptly captures the true state of the war on drugs, even as we enter the waning stages of the current regime: aimless and uncoordinated, with little regard for civilian lives.
In 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began a preliminary examination of the complaints lodged against the national leadership for “murder” and “crimes against humanity” arising from the drug war.
In 2020, the administration announced that it will undertake a review of the conduct of the drug war through the Department of Justice (DOJ). It was a departure from its previous tack of subjecting to ridicule and contempt the jurisdiction and stature of the ICC.
Last week, the justice secretary reported on their findings before the United Nations Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) assembled in Geneva, Switzerland. He admitted that their review showed serious procedural lapses and acts of misconduct. In many cases, police showed “no effort to examine recovered weapons, verify ownership, or conduct ballistic examinations,” and “failed to follow standard protocols in the coordination of drug raids and in the processing of crime scenes.” These cases, the justice secretary emphasized, have been referred to the proper agencies for further investigation.
These revelations seriously damaged the administration’s defense, repeated by senior officials and law enforcement agencies, that the suspects had fought back, or “nanlaban.”
But shocking as they may sound to the international community, these admissions have long been established and asserted by human rights lawyers and advocates.
And while it was a rare display of candor from a senior cabinet official, it can also be interpreted as a carefully laid-out ruse, an effort to show that despite its failings and lapses, the mechanism for enforcing accountability continues to function. It was intended to escape prosecution at the ICC.
Besides, one does not realistically expect the concerned agencies to expedite the investigation and the filing of cases against their own men, not when they have shown extraordinary zeal in carrying out the declared wishes of higher authorities who have pledged, on many occasions, to protect them from prosecution.
These foot soldiers in the drug war have been given what amounted to a pre-emptive exoneration. They were declared innocent even before the first trigger was pulled, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their actions. Should it surprise us that the killing frenzy reached a point where these zealots would snatch a 17-year-old Kian de Los Santos from the streets, kill him in cold blood, and then frame him?
The drug killings have returned with renewed vehemence and intensity, as if making up for lost time or rushing to ramp up the body count as a show of continued obeisance and loyalty.
The scandalous body count, and the heinous nature of the killings that count among their victims innocent children and teenagers, continue to generate international condemnation. They have become a blight on our nation’s standing in the world community.
We were once hailed as the beacon for democracy after the 1986 EDSA Revolution for mounting a bloodless revolt. Today, we are a country drenched in blood, reduced to the stature of a gangster state, the region’s new killing fields. We do not deserve it, and neither do our children.