WHEN a person suspected of trading narcotics is killed in a police operation, the team leader or the unit chief often holds a presser. The official’s answers to reporters’ questions about the nature surrounding the suspect’s death usually go like this: (a) The suspect tried to pull out his gun, so we have to shoot him first; (b) The suspect opened fire at us, but luckily not a single operative was hit because his gun malfunctioned; (c) The suspect pulled the trigger and one of our operatives got hit. Luckily though, the operative was wearing a bulletproof vest; (d) We tried to persuade him to surrender in peace, but he did not listen. He engaged us in a shootout, instead.
All deaths in drug busts are often labeled “legitimate” by the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). This implies that they did not violate the rules of engagement.
Critics of President Rodrigo Duterte have labeled his rule as bloody because his war on drugs has killed thousands of suspected pushers who were mostly poor from the slums. A human rights group report quoted official government figures, and it stated that the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency killed 5,903 individuals from July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2020. This number excluded individuals killed by unidentified gunmen whom the Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups believe operate in cahoots with local police and officials. Rights groups do not believe the Philippine government’s figures as the government, they said, has the ability to manipulate numbers to downplay the bloody campaign against illegal drugs. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) put the death toll over 8,000, with local groups believing the numbers could be triple the number reported in the OHCHR report.
In Cebu, there were efforts by the Commission on Human Rights Central Visayas (CHR 7) to investigate the spate of drug-related killings in 2018 during the time of Debold Sinas, the region’s police chief. Sinas, who eventually became the PNP chief, was uncooperative with the human rights investigators, not allowing them to look into the blotter reports. The police official, now retired and recently given a civilian government post by Duterte, had said the CHR 7 can investigate the police operations, but the latter had to find its own way of getting police records.
On October 20, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ), in a belated bid to uphold transparency on Duterte government’s highly criticized war on illegal drugs, released information on the 52 drug war-related deaths.
Majority of the 52 cases were buy-busts operations that police involved said had turned into shootouts after the subjects resisted arrest; however, it was noted that in six cases, the suspects were negative for the presence of gunpowder, suggesting that they did not fire shots and that the police lied, SunStar Philippines reported.
These six cases included those of 17-year-old Nave Perry Alcantara, who was killed in a buy-bust in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan on August 21, 2021; Benjamin Calisnao in Aparri, Cagayan on August 2, 2017; Crispin Vedano in Bansud, Oriental Mindoro on January 23, 2020; Celvin Pernes in Tanza, Cavite on July 5, 2020; Edgar Iloilo Jr. in Antipolo City on September 26, 2016; and an alias Jay-r in Rodriguez, Rizal on October 29, 2016.
Alias Jay-r was shot in a close range, which made the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) conclude that the police employed excessive force during the operation. Two police officers involved in the death of Iloilo were dismissed from service, while the other involved in the six operations, respectively, were meted 60 days to six months suspension.
The IAS also expressed doubt on the claim of the cops involved in the case of Alcantara that they only acted in self defense. The reports also noted that in many cases, the necessary documentation and examination, such as ballistics or paraffin tests, autopsy report, death certificates, pre-operation report, coordination form, chain-of-custody form and Scene of the Crime Operatives’ reports to support the operation, was lacking.
The cops were punished either by demotion or suspension. The names of the cops involved were not mentioned in the report.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation will conduct a case build-up and will file criminal charges against the cops involved.
This was the first time the government released such information since the drug war started in July 2016 when President Duterte took office.
On Oct. 21, 2021, DOJ Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said they reviewed first the 300 cases before the 52 others were included in the matrix the agency published Wednesday. He said only the publication of the report on the 52 cases has the President’s approval.
Now, no one in a civilized society wants their places to be riddled with crimes and drug problems; however, solving society’s woes through bloodshed is beyond evil.
Duterte’s presidency is about to end, but look at the country’s drug problem—it still exists despite all of the “legitimate” operations. This goes to show that as long as there is still demand for illegal drugs, killing suspected pushers does not stop drug kingpins from manufacturing and distributing narcotics.
As to the DOJ, it must look into all the deaths of drug suspects, not just the deaths of 52 or 300 suspects. It must show to the public that law enforcers are not sacred.
The investigation on persons who died during anti-narcotics operations would be just for show if not a single police officer is charged and tried.
The cases reviewed by the DOJ are mere tip of the iceberg.