Change of tune on drug war

Call for justice: Activists taking part in a rally protesting the drug war in Quezon city, Metro Manila, in 2017. On the ground are photos of people who were shot dead by police in the war. – Reuters

THE country will look into thousands of killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, its justice minister said, after a review of a sample of cases indicated foul play in dozens of deadly police operations.

Menardo Guevarra said yesterday that his Department of Justice (DOJ) would expand its review to the more than 6,000 killings during police operations, after which many officers were cleared of wrongdoing in internal police investigations.

“Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will review these thousands of other cases, too,” he said.

The decision signals a shift from the nation’s vehement defence of the drug war, which has seen the government scold critics and activists claiming there were systematic executions of drug suspects by police.The Philippines has come under pressure from the United Nations to hold a thorough probe and the International Criminal Court recently announced it would investigate the crackdown.

But the government has said it will not cooperate as the Philippine justice system is functioning.

Yesterday’s release of details of 52 drug war deaths marks a rare admission by the state that abuses may have taken place.

In several of those, victims had no traces of gunpowder on their hands, or did not have a gun at all.

The DOJ also said police had used excessive force, shot suspects at close range and relevant medical and police records were missing.

The findings, which are subject to further case buildup and criminal charges, could challenge the government’s narrative of the war on drugs.Duterte has for five years defended police and argued that all those killed were drug dealers who resisted arrest. He has publicly said police could kill if they believed they were in danger and he would pardon any who end up in prison.

Police chief Guillermo Eleazar vowed no cover-up, saying: “We will make sure to hold accountable those who should be held accountable.”One of the cases reviewed by the DOJ involved a suspect who was shot 15 times by police.

The DOJ said there was no crime scene report or autopsy, nor were ballistics or paraffin tests done to determine if the suspect was armed.

It said it was disclosing the findings so that families of victims could know the deaths were being investigated, and to invite witnesses to come forward. — Reuters

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