CHR: 'Drug war' review report credibility may suffer if done 'in the shadows'

January 13, 2021

 MANILA, Philippines — Credibility of the Philippine government’s “drug war” review report would suffer if it will be done “in the shadows,” the Commission on Human Rights said.

The CHR was left out of the crafting of the initial report by the Department of Justice-led panel, despite a promise to the United Nations Human Rights Council that the commission would be involved as an independent monitoring body.

“If it’s done under the shadows, if it’s not transparent, then there is doubt as to the credibility of that report,” human rights commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit told ANC’s Matters of Fact on Wednesday.

Gomez-Dumpit said they were “puzzled” and surprised when they learned that the initial report has been released because they were expecting that the CHR “would be a part of it from the beginning.”

She added they have written to the DOJ four times, the latest was sent on January 7 after they learned that the initial report has been released.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they intend to engage the CHR in the “drug war” review panel, as he pointed out that only an initial report was released.

“Our efforts have been severely hampered by current restrictions on mobility and physical access to records. Much collaborative work remains to be done," the DOJ chief added.

The high-level panel is conducting “a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred.” Human rights groups have estimated drug war deaths at four times the number acknowledged by the government.

The initial report covers initial findings in a couple of provinces with the highest incidence of police operations resulting in deaths, particularly in Bulacan and Pampanga.

‘Nanlaban’ cases need review

Gomez-Dumpit said they could have provided fresh eyes in the report and share evidence that they have gathered in their own investigations. “We are an independent mechanism, so we can actually advise the government on what to do with all these cases,” she added.

She urged the government to publicize the initial report or give the commission a copy, so the families of victims would have access to it.

“We have said this in the past, and we are reiterating it: When there is a defense of ‘nanlaban,’ it has to be credible,” the rights commissioner said.

“Even if it is within legitimate police operations, it does not mean that any death resulting from a police operation is actually excusable,” the CHR official stressed, adding that circumstances in every case must be reviewed, especially in those where the victim is unarmed.

The UNHRC acknowledged the “drug war” review panel in its resolution in October 2020 that only pushed for capacity building to improve human rights situation in the country, short of launching an independent, on-the-ground investigation that rights groups have been calling for.

Rights groups have flagged the “drug war” panel review as an attempt at damage control to avoid international scrutiny and investigation. 

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