Extrajudicial Killings as official policy

Here is the unassailable conclusion.”

In the Request for Judicial Investigation filed before the International Criminal Court on the situation in the Philippines in the context of the Duterte Administration’s war on drugs campaign (WoD), Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda gives an exhaustive narration of the factual and jurisdictional bases to justify the grant of such Request.


By way of historical background, the Request lays down in chronological order a narration of the significant events of Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs from the time he was mayor of Davao City up to the early years of his presidency, starting July 2016 up to March 2019. This factual narration serves to reveal a pattern of extrajudicial and extralegal killings perpetrated by state and non-state actors in furtherance of a State policy to kill suspected drug users and sellers and to instigate members of the public to carry out such killings.


As stated in the Request, as early as February 2016 and throughout the WoD, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (“PDEA”) repeatedly reported that a high proportion of the country’s barangays were “drug affected” – meaning that a drug user, dealer (or “pusher”), manufacturer, marijuana cultivator, or other drug personality had been “proven” to exist in such locations – and indicated that the WoD should continue until all barangays could be considered cleared. Most used drugs in the Philippines are believed to be methamphetamine hydrochloride (commonly known as “shabu”) and cannabis (marijuana).


During 1988-1998, 2001-2010, and 2013-2016, the current President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, served as Mayor of Davao City on an anti-drugs and anti-crime platform, earning him the nicknames “The Punisher” and “Duterte Harry” for the violent manner in which he sought to combat crime. On multiple occasions, Duterte publicly supported and encouraged the killing of petty criminals and drug dealers in Davao City. During his tenure as Mayor, Davao City police officers and the so-called “Davao Death Squad” (“DDS”), a vigilante group comprising both civilian and police members linked to the local administration, allegedly carried out at least 1,000 killings. According to Bensouda, those killings share a number of common features with killings during the later national WoD campaign, including the victim profile, advance warning to the victim, perpetrator profile, the means used, and the locations of incidents.


The Request then divides the WoD campaign into six operational phases covering the period between July 2016 and March 2019, excerpts of which are quoted below:


Phase 1 (1 July 2016 – mid-October 2016) saw the implementation of Project Double Barrel in the first three months following Duterte’s inauguration. It included law enforcement activities under both Operation Tokhang and Operation HVT. Amnesty International (“AI”) called this period “Duterte’s 100 days of carnage”.


Phase 2 (26 October 2016 – 29 January 2017), the implementation of “Project Double Barrel Alpha” expanded the scope of Double Barrel, focusing on the “neutralization of high value targets” and extending Operation Tokhang to “schools, business establishments, subdivisions and condominium,” in addition to visits to drug suspects’ residences.


Phase 3 (30 January 2017 – 5 March 2017) saw the temporary suspension of police anti-drug operations, following the killing of Korean national Jee Ick Joo by PNP personnel. Duterte ordered the PDEA to take over all anti-drug-related operations, while the PNP was ordered to clean its ranks of so-called “rogue” police, including those suspected to be involved in drug-related activities. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (“AFP” or “armed forces”) were tasked with assisting the PDEA in its work.


Phase 4 (6 March 2017 – 10 October 2017) corresponded to the implementation of “Project Double Barrel: Reloaded”, which relaunched Project Double Barrel “with a few revisions in its mechanisms”. PNP Chief Dela Rosa promised that “this time it is going to be more extensive, aggressive and well-coordinated”. Dela Rosa also promised “a less bloody, if not bloodless” campaign.


Phase 5 (10 October 2017 – 4 December 2017) saw a second suspension of the police’s involvement in anti-drug operations, following the highly publicised killing of teenager Kian Delos Santos by members of the PNP, and increased public criticism of the WoD. Responsibility for “leading the all-out war against illegal drugs” was transferred to the PDEA exclusively until 5 December 2017, when the PNP was again put in charge of conducting anti-drug operations.


Phase 6 (from 5 December 2017) signalled the return of the PNP to the conduct of WoD operations, under the supervision of the PDEA.41 During this phase, on 21 April 2018, Oscar Albayalde took over from Dela Rosa as head of the PNP. Albayalde reportedly confirmed his commitment to continuing “the programs of the previous leadership.”


Since the launch of the WoD campaign, despite the high number of killings during police anti-drug operations, President Duterte has repeatedly and publicly confirmed his commitment to continue on with the murderous campaign.


The unassailable conclusion: these killings are a result of an official policy of the state. The Philippine government sanctioned all these killings.


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