“UNHRC, you are welcome here!“
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The parents of John Jezreel David did not expect he would be dead at 21 because of President Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.
David’s stepmother, Katherine Bautista, 37, said he never used illegal drugs. In fact, David was not even in the drug watch list. This is why since the beginning, she and her husband, Dennise, David’s father, have been steadfast in seeking justice for their son whom they described as a responsible brother to his younger sister.
David went missing on Jan. 19 after work. After two days of searching, Bautista said village officials told them that David was seen at Manila Police District Station 11. The police however told them to look for David in a funeral parlor where they found his remains.
Bautista is one with the families under the Rise Up for Life and for Rights in calling for the United Nations Human Rights Council to come here in the Philippines and investigate the killings in Duterte’s so-called war on drugs.
“UNHRC, you are welcome here! You are needed!” the families and human rights advocates chanted during the press conference last Saturday, June 21.
The UN Human Rights Council is holding their 41st session starting Monday, June 24. According to Deaconess Rubilyn Litao, Rise Up coordinator, they will send communications to the UNHRC appealing for an investigation “into the depth and breadth of human rights violations in the Philippines.”
In her opening statement at the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office is following the situation of human rights in the Philippines very closely.
“The extraordinarily high number of deaths – and persistent reports of extrajudicial killings – in the context of campaigns against drug use continue. Even the officially confirmed number of 5425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country,” Bachelet said.
Bachelet said there should also be comprehensive and transparent information from the authorities on the circumstances around the deaths, and investigations related to allegations of violations.
The UN official noted that human rights defenders, including activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples; journalists; lawyers; members of the Catholic clergy; and others who have spoken out have received threats. “This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression,” she said.
Challenges in filing cases against perpetrators
Julian Oliva Jr. of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said that among the challenges facing the families of victims of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs is filing a case against the perpetrators especially when it is categorized as “death under investigation.” These are those who were killed by riding-in-tandem or vigilantes.
He said evidence that will lead to those who are behind the killings are essential so that a case can be filed and eventually make them accountable. This is why despite the increasing number of families coming to Rise Up for assistance, only a few of them have already filed a case against the perpetrators. He said since 2017, there were only four cases filed against the police in connection with the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. Among them were David’s case and Djastin Lopez, the epileptic who was killed by the police in Tondo.
Read: ‘There is hope’ | Mother of victim of anti-illegal drug ops welcomes dismissal of cop from service
Bautista said they have filed a case against Police Chief Inspector Leandro Gutierrez and his team from the Manila Police District Station 11 before the Ombudsman on Sept. 28, 2017. However, there is still no resolution until now. On Feb. 17 this year, Bautista said they filed a motion to resolve the case. On March 6, the police filed their joint counter affidavit and motion to dismiss the case.
“After so many many years the accused police officers have responded only now. What’s worse is that they are asking to dismiss (the complaints against them),” she told Bulatlat in an interview.
According to reports, David and two others were killed in a police operation. They allegedly fought back and were killed. However, there are inconsistencies in the police’s spot and progress report as to when the incident happened. The police also claimed that there were illegal drugs, guns and marked money found in the possession of David et al.
Bautista and her husband belied such claims. She also said that there are witnesses that David did not fight back.
Come out and fight for justice
After the press conference was the usual gathering of the families whose loved ones were lost in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. Many of them are mothers including Normita Lopez, mother of Djastin and Christine Pascual, mother of 17-year-old dota champion Joshua Laxamana.
Some mothers could bravely speak against President Duterte’s so-called war on drugs. Some are still in the process of healing. As Pascual said, those who are being targeted by this campaign against illegal drugs, also have their rights too.
“We need to speak up so that these senseless killings would stop,” said Emily Soriano whose 16-year-old son Angelito was one among those killed in Caloocan City on Dec. 28, along with six others, including other minors and a pregnant woman.
They are the mothers who also document cases of killings in their community. They encourage the families to come out and speak up and seek the truth and justice for their loved ones.
“It really pains me that a mother would choose to be silent and say, ‘ipagpapasa-Diyos ko na lang’ (leave it up to the Lord) because we can’t be silent. We can do something,” Bautista said.