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Drug war probe: Better late than never

Manila Standard

The inquiry by the House committee on human rights on the bloody war on drugs waged by the Rodrigo Duterte administration from 2016 to 2022 is a step in the right direction.

It’s about time.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman was entirely correct in saying it is “better late than never,” as the crackdown and the alleged extra-judicial killings would have been conveniently swept under the rug by authorities had Congress not taken the initiative.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, the committee chair, has clarified the House inquiry was being conducted in aid of legislation and “will not in any way work with the ICC.

“It will focus on human rights violations [within the country] and the ICC will be the one to conduct the investigation however they want, but not with the (help of the House) committee on human rights,” he pointed out.

During the first hearing, lawmakers sought to retrace the actions taken by the Department of Justice as the death toll rose and complaints piled up over irregularities in police anti-drug operations.

Former Justice Secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra explained during the committee hearing the DOJ only looked into 52 of the more than 6,000 drug-related deaths officially acknowledged by the government.

Guevarra said the DOJ actually investigated more than 900 complaints against police officers, but eventually prioritized 52 cases since these had the strongest chances of going to trial.

He acknowledged “there have indeed been incidents of human rights violations not just during the drug war, but also incidents of … extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other serious violations of the right to life, liberty and security…the executive department has done its share in accordance with procedure in prosecuting and investigating these abuses.”

Guevarra said the allegations of rights abuses “must be established by means of competent evidence. This means it’s a case-to-case basis as we cannot really say all police operations led to human rights violations.”

The Philippine government has often cited the 52 cases of drug killings that have been investigated as proof that the country’s justice system is working.

The Philippine National Police has officially acknowledged that more than 6,000 have been killed in the war on drugs but human rights groups believe the actual death toll from the crackdown may range from 12,000 to 30,000.

The House hearing should leave no stone unturned in finding out what really happened in the course of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs as this would hopefully lead to closure to this violent episode in the nation’s contemporary political history.

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