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Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar at the turnover of command for the Philippine National Police, Metro Manila, Philippines, on January 5, 2020. © 2020 Herman R. Lumanog/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two recent developments signal possible improvement in the conduct of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which has been deeply implicated in President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” and other abuses.

One was the announcement Monday by Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that the PNP will allow the department access to the records of 61 cases in which there is sufficient evidence to file administrative or criminal charges against police officers.

This could be a breakthrough. The Department of Justice promised the United Nations Human Rights Council that it would investigate some of these killings. In February, Guevarra disclosed to the council that police violated internal protocols in half of the 328 cases it examined. Since the “drug war” began in 2016, only one case has resulted in a conviction of law enforcement officers. The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor is examining whether the “drug war” killings in the Philippines warrant a full investigation.

The second development was the statement on Sunday by the PNP’s new chief, Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, that the case of slain transgender man Norriebi Tria had been “resolved.” That means, according to Eleazar, police have identified and arrested the alleged perpetrators but the case remains active. This is a departure from previous police statements classifying cases as “closed” or “solved” once suspects were merely identified – not even arrested, let alone charged. The practice misleads the public about police efficiency and masks the real picture of impunity for serious crimes in the Philippines.

These hopeful developments are all to the credit of Eleazar, a well-regarded police official. So far, he’s been saying all the right things, even promising to rid the PNP of “scalawags.” But are the reforms he has promised achievable and sustainable? That’s not clear.

The PNP rarely displays this type of openness. It has helped to stonewall investigations, even refusing to cooperate with the national Commission on Human Rights. As Metro Manila police chief, Eleazar was a key enforcer of the “drug war.” More crucially, he only has five months left before he retires.

If Eleazar is serious about these reforms, he should ensure the police’s full cooperation with investigators into the “drug war” killings and take more concrete steps to hold abusive officers accountable.


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