The Philippine National Police (PNP) did something extraordinary this week: It took action to protect the rights of criminal suspects.
On Monday, PNP chief Oscar Albayalde declared that the police will stop parading criminal suspects in front of the media in so-called “perp walks.” Albayalde said the decision to end the practice was made “to be fair to the public.” The Philippine Commission on Human Rights applauded Albayalde’s decision as supportive of “due process and presumption of innocence.”
Albayalde added that his directive reiterates an existing PNP order issued in 2007 by then-PNP chief Jesus Versoza in response to complaints about the unconstitutionality of the practice. But Ronald dela Rosa, who served as PNP chief from July 2016 until this April, revived the practice as part of Duterte’s “drug war” in which more than 12,000 drug suspects have been killed.
This was despite the fact that the PNP’s own Human Rights Affairs Office in 2008 had ruled that “perp walks ” were a violation of the Philippine Bill of Rights and the country’s anti-torture law. Nicknamed the “firing line” by PNP personnel, human rights defenders have also criticized “perp walks” on the basis that they violate due process. Numerous criminal suspects subjected to such perp walks have issued spontaneous confessions in front of the cameras, raising concerns about self-incrimination.
But if Albayalde is really serious about transforming the Philippine National Police into an organization that will “observe due process,” he needs to do a lot more than just end “perp walks.” He needs to stop his police officers from gunning down drug suspects and passing these summary executions off as justified because the suspects allegedly “fought back.” According to research by Human Rights Watch and other groups, police routinely execute suspects during anti-drug operations, often planting evidence such as drugs and weapons on the body of the victims, and claiming that the suspects died because they resisted arrest.
The true measure of Albayalde’s avowals of due process and respect for human rights is to end the abuses by his personnel and hold them to account for their “drug war” crimes. Otherwise, ending “perp walks” will just be viewed as cynical, self-serving window-dressing.