The Philippine government should create an independent commission to investigate the role of police officers in the killings of drug suspects, Human Rights Watch said today. A top law enforcement official recently admitted that police officers working for drug syndicates were responsible for many of the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the past two years.
Chief Superintendent Debold Dinas, chief of the Philippine National Police for the Central Visayas region, stated in an interview on October 31, 2018, that some of the hitmen responsible for these killings were “most likely… retired military or police officers or there are active police officers.” He made the admission following a series of killings in Cebu City and elsewhere in the central Philippines that bore similarities to the “drug war” murders that began after President Rodrigo Duterte took office in July 2016.
“The admission by a senior police official that police officers are working as hitmen for drug syndicates is yet more evidence of Philippine government complicity in ‘drug war’ killings,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the total failure of the police to stop these abuses, it’s clear that any serious investigation of the police role in the war on drugs needs full independence.”
Any proposed commission of inquiry should be completely independent from the Philippine National Police and the Office of the President. Its members should include investigators from the Commission on Human Rights and representatives of nongovernmental organizations with recognized expertise.
Human Rights Watch investigations into several “drug war” killings revealed the pervasive involvement of police officers who routinely falsified evidence by planting weapons and illegal drugs on suspects’ bodies. Human Rights Watch found that whether or not the unidentified assailants were police officers or agents of the police, the similarity of tactics used in the killings showed planning and coordination by the police and local civilian officials.
Reuters and other media organizations have also published investigative pieces that implicated police officers in “drug war” killings. Philippine officials have repeatedly denied the claims by Human Rights Watch and others, but the admission by Dinas of police complicity bolsters the need for an independent investigation. Duterte has regularly called for the killing of alleged drug dealers and users.
In February, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, announced that the court would conduct a “preliminary examination” into killings linked to the “war on drugs.” Bensouda said the ICC’s initial inquiry was based on allegations of “thousands” of deaths, many of which were linked to “extrajudicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”
Despite the calls for accountability, not one police officer or government official has been convicted for any of these killings. Instead, the Duterte administration has attacked critics of the drug war. The government jailed an outspoken senator, Leila de Lima, on spurious charges; falsely accused human rights groups of links to the drug trade; threatened journalists who report critically on the “drug war”; and, most recently, deported a long-time foreign resident for denouncing the government’s anti-drug campaign.
“Chief Superintendent Dinas suggestion that the police hitmen are rogue officers doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Adams said. “Duterte has made it clear over and over again that he wants drug dealers and users killed so there is no reason to think these are rogue operations. It’s time for an independent commission to be created to officially identify those responsible and begin the process of accountability for mass murder.”