IN its annual report on human rights, the United States State Department took note of the “sharp increase” of killings and police impunity in the Philippines in connection with President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war against illegal drugs.
Released on Friday, March 3, the report cited more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users killed both by the police and unknown vigilantes since Duterte took office in July of last year.
Since then, he has vowed to fulfill his campaign promise to eliminate illegal drug activities in the country within six months.
The report also mentioned the killing of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa in his prison cell by Philippine National Police (PNP) officers during the execution of a search warrant on November 5, 2016.
“There were numerous reports that the PNP committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with a government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by unknown assailants and antigovernment insurgents continued,” the report said.
Apart from the extrajudicial killings, the U.S. State Department also cited other human rights problems in the Philippines, including: official corruption and abuse of power; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; security force harassment of political activists, including threats of violence against human rights activists; warrantless arrests; and lengthy pretrial detentions, among others.
Regarding the freedom of the press in the Philippines, the State Department said that “the independent media” was capable of airing “a wide variety of views without restriction.”
The report, however, claimed that Filipino journalists “faced harassment and threats of violence, including from politicians and government authorities critical of their reporting.”
“In April then candidate Duterte drew widespread criticism after he told the media that journalists should enjoy no special protections and could be ‘assassinated’ if they were ‘corrupt’ and took money from politicians,” it said.
Sought for comments, Malacañang said that Duterte “has ordered the appropriate law enforcement institutions to take decisive legal steps to ensure accountability.”
“We will arrest, investigate, prosecute and punish the scalawags in uniform, while also pursuing reform in these institutions so that they can more effectively conduct this noble crusade,” Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
Abella also stressed that deaths perpetrated by vigilantes should “not be confused with the government’s war on illegal drugs” and that the Duterte administration has been consistent with condemning extrajudicial killings and is “firmly committed to upholding human rights.”
“The [Philippine] government will not shirk from its duty to protect the Filipino people, and ensure that they have a secure, peaceful and bountiful future. We hope the international community will support us in this effort,” he added.
In several instances last year, Duterte lambasted the U.S. under former President Barack Obama for the latter’s alleged interference with the Philippine government’s crackdown against illegal drugs.
Duterte’s fiery speeches, however, have seemingly toned down when new U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office in January.
“He [Trump] understood the way we are handling it and I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that, ‘we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country,’” Duterte previously said in December. (AJPress)