In my previous column, I cited the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and said I would write a series of columns based on it. This is because it a well-documented and superbly written report, based on solid research and on impeccable information collected by the Office of the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR).
To complete this report, requested by the United Nations Human Rights Council, 893 written submissions were received by the OHCHR as of January 31, 2020. The Philippine government provided substantial written input, including a response to a list of written questions. Thus, it can be said to be a fair and balanced report, some parts of it I reproduce below.
President Rodrigo Duterte was voted into office in 2016 pledging to kill criminals and eliminate corruption and drugs in “three to six months.” Even before his inauguration, the arrests and killings began.
Based on police data from 42,286 police anti-illegal drugs operations conducted from 1 July 2016 until 30 November 2017, 507—only 1.2 per cent—were based on an arrest warrant. In addition to the barangay lists, the President published “narcolists” of government officials allegedly involved in the drug trade. House visitations systematically forced suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk facing lethal force. Refusal of house visitation—even without a search or arrest warrant—was to result in “immediate case-build up and negation.” Encouragement by the highest level of state officials to use lethal force may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill.
The government denies that there is a policy to kill people who use drugs and states that all deaths occur during legitimate police operations. Thus, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, since the launch of Double Barrel on 1 July 2016 and until 31 January 2020, the police killed 5,601 persons. There are however reports of widespread drug-related killings perpetrated by unidentified “vigilantes.”
The administration’s 2017 Year-End Report mentions 16,355 “homicide cases under investigation” as accomplishments in the fight against illegal drugs, prompting the Highest Court to raise the possibility that the killings were State-sponsored. Noting that drug operations by police and homicides perpetrated by unidentified persons resulted in 20,322 deaths from 1 July 2016 to 27 November 2017, the Supreme Court demanded an explanation for the staggering average of nearly 40 deaths per day. In March 2019, police claimed that although there were 29,000 deaths labelled as “deaths under inquiry” between 1 July 2016 and 4 February 2019, only 3,062 (9.47 per cent) were drug-related. A previous study, however, had found that police severely underreported the percentage of drug-related killings among homicides.
The OHCHR cannot verify the number of extrajudicial killings without further investigation. However, based on gathered information, the drug campaign-related killings appear to have a widespread and systematic character. The most conservative figure, based on government data, suggests that since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed—with other estimates of up to triple that number.
Police reports disclosed before the Supreme Court offer insight into the conduct of 22 anti-drug operations in which 29 persons were killed – all in their homes. Except for one case, police conducted the operations without warrants. Pre-operational plans drawn up by police called for “immediate apprehension” and “neutralization” of targeted persons. Post-operational spot reports claimed that the targets were killed after resisting. The spot reports, however, contained strikingly similar language to describe each victim’s alleged utterance (“put*ng ina mo pulis ka pala”—which roughly translates as “so you are a police [officer], son-of-a-b*tch”) and actions (“suspect drew his weapon, fired at the lawmen but missed”), raising doubts about whether the reports were only filled pro forma.
From all of these, once can only conclude that there is a massacre going on in the Philippines and it is directed at the poor. Aswang, an award winning film directed by the brilliant Alyx Ayn G. Arumpac and shown over the weekend, portrays this reality through the lens of funeral parlor workers who wait every night to pick up the bodies, the children of the neighborhoods where the massacre is happening, the victims themselves, and the Redemptorists in Baclaran who assist the families of the victims and are documenting the atrocities.
There are vampires prowling and killing persons in poor urban communities. But you can win against the vampires only when you stand up to them. And so people are fighting back, no longer afraid, as Arumpac’s movie subtly implies as it concludes.
The UN Report is a testimonial to the courage of poor Filipinos as dozens of witnesses have now come forward to describe what is happening in the Philippines. When Duterte and his cohorts are charged and tried in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, the one thing that won’t be absent would be witnesses. That won’t bring the dead back to life, but it will give them justice.
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