Philippines’ police force still cover up drug war killings, rights watchdog says


The Philippine National Police (PNP) have continued “perpetrating extrajudicial killings” and “obstructing justice” in connection with the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s probe into the “war on drugs” of President Rodrigo Duterte administration, a report by an international rights watchdog said.

In its second report published on Tuesday, Investigate PH accused the country’s police force of covering up the circumstances of the killings during anti-drug operations and intimidating the families of victims and potential witnesses, obstructing the review of most killings by the justice department.

Investigate PH is an initiative of peoples from all over the world concerned about the state of human rights in the Philippines.

The rights group are currently holding independent investigations on the human rights violations in the Philippines to further substantiate the landmark June 2020 report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the country’s rights situation.

“While the police claim that those killed in anti-drug operations were resisting – known as the ‘nanlaban’ (fought back) narrative – evidence indicates that unarmed victims have been executed either in their home, on the street or after being abducted, with weapons or drugs likely planted after,” the report said.

“Those killed in anti-drug operations are overwhelmingly poor people unable to assert their rights to due process,” it added.

In a hearing conducted by Investigate PH on May 18, photographer Vincent Go showed photographs of victims who were tagged as “nanlaban” wearing handcuffs and zip ties, indicating that there was no way they could have resisted arrest.

In the same hearing, a professor of forensic pathology, Dr. Raquel Fortun, said that she encountered these indications in five bodies that she had autopsied.

According to Fortun, these defensive wounds of victims were not recorded by the police. Some of the wounds, made by bullets, were on the wrists of victims “who were raising their arms in front of themselves as they were shot.”

One body had post-death incisions and sutures, indicating an autopsy had been done. But Fortun found out that it was not properly conducted.

The death certificates were also signed by physicians associated with the police, which, according to Investigate PH, indicates cooperation by medical professionals in the cover-up of extrajudicial killings — a violation of medical ethics.

Meanwhile, an Investigate PH commissioner, former Australian Sen. Lee Rhiannon, said that families of the victims also face “intense” pressure from police not to press charges.

“The impact of these killings does not end when the victim dies,” said Rhiannon during the launch of the second report.

“Funeral parlours often work closely with local police. Some extort huge fees from families before they can retrieve the body of their loved one. Pressure from the police for families to not lodge a complaint is often intense at this time and for years after,” she added.

Investigate PH also revealed that organizations that seek redress for the killing of one or more of their families, “come up against a brick wall of bureaucratic resistance from the police, the Ombudsman and the courts.”

Rubylin Litao, a representative of the organization Rise Up, told Investigate PH that she had filed six cases at the Office of the Ombudsman. While one managed to reach the Supreme Court, two were dismissed even after reconsideration. The other four have not yet even been resolved.

“Because of experiences like these, most families have no confidence in the Philippine judicial system,” said Litao in the May 18 hearing.

Last Feb. 24, Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that irregularities were seen in more than half of the 6,000 anti-drug operations the PNP has conducted.

Because of this, the PNP allowed the DOJ to access 61 of its questionable cases related to the drug war. This was later reduced to 53 after the PNP stated that eight of the cases were on appeal.

In a televised public address, President Rodrigo Duterte also invoked national security, claiming that police documents from his administration’s anti-narcotics campaign should be kept secret since they contained confidential information about specific individuals.

This contradicted the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2018 declaring that records involving the deaths of drug suspects during police operations had nothing to do with national security.

Duterte launched his war on drugs on June 30, 2016, the same day he took office.

Between July 01, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2020, the official government figures list 6,011 deaths in anti-drug operations.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, however, found that the figure as of March 2020 was at least 8,663 while other human rights organizations pegged the number at over 20,000. (Source: