Nothing new

Published October 26, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

FINDING ANSWERS

Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

The information released last week by the Department of Justice on its review of 52 cases concerning drug war deaths confirms what most Filipinos believe and knew all along: The “nanlaban” narrative usually peddled by police doesn’t hold water.

In some of the cases involving around 150 cops who were found administratively liable for penalties ranging from reprimand and suspension to demotion and dismissal from service, the DOJ shattered the often-used “nanlaban” claims in “buy-bust” operations that drug suspects fought it out and the police had to defend themselves by firing back.

“There is nothing in the records that would support the police operatives’ claim that the suspect fired at them. No paraffin or ballistics tests, as well as cross-matching of the weapon allegedly recovered from the subject, were conducted,” the DOJ report said among its observations presented in a matrix.

In other instances, the DOJ gave weight to findings of the Philippine National Police’ Internal Affairs Service (IAS) that belied the cops’ self-defense assertions.

“IAS noted that, at the time of the shooting, the suspect and the police operative who shot the suspect were standing only a meter apart. Considering the relative positions of the two persons at the time of the alleged shooting, IAS expressed doubt with regard to the police operative’s claim of self-defense… Paraffin test showed that both hands of the suspect were negative for gunpowder nitrates,” the DOJ report said.

In another instance, the DOJ simply noted: “IAS refused to give credence to the police operatives’ claim of self-defense. Notably, upon paraffin test, the suspect was found negative for gunpowder nitrates.”

The validity of a police operation was also questioned in another case. “The police operative did not present any document to show there was a legitimate buy-bust operation,” the DOJ said.

While some people said the DOJ report is “too little, too late” as it is only a miniscule portion of the thousands of drug-related deaths over the years since the administration came to power in 2016, others still see some value in the efforts being exerted by the DOJ after the International Criminal Court opened the probe into the drug war.

“I hope that this will serve justice to those killed. It is important to the bereaved families to have good data about who the killer was, why the victims were killed, what are the real circumstances of their deaths. And if there are wrongdoings, if they are victims of extrajudicial killings, suspects should be accountable,” Vice President Leni Robredo said.

As a former human rights lawyer, I share the belief of the VP Robredo. Indeed, justice needs to be served for families of those who fell victim to police impunity, those ruthlessly killed by supposed lawmen who betray the trust bestowed on them when they are armed and equipped to uphold the law but make a mockery of their sworn commitment when they become criminals themselves.

What the DOJ reported last week is certainly nothing new, considering that the Filipino psyche has been bombarded over the years with various accounts of alleged summary executions of suspects in police custody.

As early as 2016, a few months after the administration took over, Reuters News Agency also came out with a lengthy special report on its review of 51 cases of drug-related shooting incidents involving police. The report revealed that “the police killed 97 percent of those they shot — 33 dead for every person wounded.” “The kill ratio is much higher than in countries with comparable drug-related violence,” Reuters explained, saying that Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro — where police have also been accused of extrajudicial killings in a bloody crime crackdown, but with only one person wounded for every five people the Rio police killed between 2013 and 2015 — pales next to the Philippines.

“The figures pose a powerful challenge to the official narrative that the Philippines police are only killing drug suspects in self-defense. These statistics and other evidence amassed by Reuters point in the other direction: that police are pro-actively gunning down suspects,” the report said.

The Reuters report was followed by another bombshell on December 7, 2016 when the New York Times came out with the graphic photo essay, “They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals,” which presented a terrifying portrayal of the horrors and anguish unleashed by EJKs.

So while debunking the usual “nanlaban” narrative is not new, there might be hope in the horizon with something new: a no-nonsense probe into the drug war killings that would lead to the criminal prosecution and eventual punishment of those found liable.

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