MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration’s creation of an inter-agency panel to look into drug war deaths is just a “ruse” to avoid international scrutiny and investigation, rights groups said.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 44th session on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra delivered the Philippine government’s statement and said an inter-agency panel was created to investigate anti-drug operations that resulted in deaths. This panel is "external" to the Philippine National Police and headed by his department, Guevarra added.
But the Human Rights Watch pointed out that this panel “is deeply flawed.”
HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson pointed out that the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, agencies directly implicated in the drug war, are part of the team. The Departments of Justice and the Interior and Local Government, both involved in the bloody campaign, will evaluate and finalize the review.
“At a time when the Philippines needs a serious impartial investigation into ‘drug war’ killings, the panel is nothing more than a ruse to shield the country from international scrutiny,” Robertson said.
“It’s also a naked attempt to discourage the Human Rights Council from starting an independent, international investigation into the ‘drug war’ killings and related violations as recommended by the UN high commissioner,” he added.
HRW stressed: “Countries at the Human Rights Council should not be fooled.”
DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete explained to reporters that the DILG is part of the review panel for recommendations and implementations related to administrative or disciplinary probes. PDEA and PNP meanwhile share their documents to the panel.
The panel will make a report on its work on November 2020.
To note, the Duterte and his men are are being accused of committing crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court. The ICC can only act if national courts “have been found unable or unwilling to try a case.”
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda previously said that her office aims to finalize its preliminary examination into the Philippines in 2020.
Just damage control
Rights group Ecuvoice, meanwhile, said the Philippine government's statement, while delivered in more sober tones, only appears to “be damage control to save its international reputation [and] pre-empt any further concrete and decisive international opportunities or mechanisms for accountability.”
Domestic remedies such as the creation of the review panel “become soporific in the face of previous experience and present realities,” it added.
Guevarra, in his statement, called on “human rights mechanisms” to “exercise due diligence in validating allegations brought before them by parties.”
But Ecuvoice argued that the UN report was not based on a single document, but on the “overwhelming” testimonies, documents, records and interviews by independent bodies.
“The Philippine government cannot just simply throw all consistent and persistent accounts of violations and frustrations with domestic remedies through the token of another washing machine to discombobulate the mind and deodorize the foul stink,” Ecuvoice also said.
government figures put the number of alleged drug personalities killed in the war on drugs at 5,601. But it is significantly lower than the estimates by human rights watchdogs of as many as 27,000 killed.
Last year, the Human Rights Council voted to adopt a resolution requiring Bachelet to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. — with report from Gaea Katreena Cabico
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