“The State itself is directly involved in planning, implementing and sanctioning widespread human rights violations.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – An independent investigation on human rights violations in the Philippines has released its second report on July 6 highlighting what they described as wars against the people “perpetrated by State agents and enabled by the Duterte administration’s security policies.”
The group Investigate PH or Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines, focused their investigation on what they call as three internal wars in the Philippines: the government’s so-called war-on-drugs, the counterinsurgency program which heightened into a war on dissent and the ongoing abuses committed against the Moro people in Mindanao under the guise of war on terror.
“This report details how the three areas of militarized aggression are in fact wars against the poor, the marginalized, farmer and trade union leaders, human rights defenders, and the public more broadly. Human rights abuses perpetrated by the police and armed forces serve to protect State agents from accountability. The State itself is directly involved in planning, implementing and sanctioning widespread human rights violations,” the report read.
On ‘war on drugs’
In a series of interviews with witnesses, Investigate PH found out how the police has covered up the killings of drug suspects by using the usual reason that the suspects resisted arrest.
This has been further substantiated by the photographs of a photojournalist who was interviewed by Investigate PH where suspects are hogtied, suggesting that victims were not resisting when they were shot dead, the report said.
Investigate PH also interviewed forensic expert Raquel Fortun who had looked into the bodies of those killed during police operations after five of the families approached her to conduct an autopsy. Based on clinical evidence and information on the death certificates, it shows that there was no genuine police inquiry into the cause of death, the report said.
“A number of the bodies showed evidence of zip ties or handcuffs, which indicates that the victims were restrained when they were executed. She found that defensive wounds of victims were not recorded by the police. These included bullets entering the wrists of victims who were raising their arms in front of themselves as they were shot. One body had post-death incisions and sutures, seemingly indicative of an autopsy – but Dr. Fortun found that a proper autopsy had not been conducted,” the report read.
Investigate PH also looked into the impact of killings on families who were left behind and found out how they were being stigmatized, and were confronted with further hardships economically following the death of breadwinners.
A witness whose husband was killed by motorcycle riding men in 2017 said that her children were bullied in school and in the community. This has resulted in their loss of interest in studying and attending school. The witness said that she wanted transfer to a new place but could not afford the relocation.
“Life became even harder when she lost her job during the pandemic. She could not even pay the rent on their room,” the report read.
“Poor communities have been terrorized by the anti-drug operations, first by the shock of a breadwinner or a child being suddenly killed. Second, the funeral parlor with alleged connection with the police extorting huge fees before the family could retrieve the remains of their loved one. Third, by the financial hardship which befalls the survivors of the family. Fourth, by continuous police pressure on the families to desist from filing a complaint with authorities,” the report.
Investigate PH also noted how, with the thousands of cases, only few of the perpetrators were held accountable.
The group lamented that it is only the case of Kian Delos Santos where perpetrators were held accountable.
“Since then, and through June 2021, there has not been a single reported prosecution of police actually commenced in court, let alone a conviction,” the report read.
Some of the families were assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in filing cases with the Ombudsman. Out of the six cases filed, two were dismissed even after reconsideration, one had gone all the way to the Supreme Court and the other four are not yet resolved.
“These six cases were chosen from over 200 cases, because the evidence was very strong. When the Ombudsman failed to move on their cases, Rise Up also filed six cases with the International Criminal Court, and then one additional case,” the report said.
‘War against dissenters’
The group also found out in their investigation how these drug-related killings were expanded and used against dissenters through the Executive Order No. 70, which Duterte signed in 2018.
Investigate PH said the EO 70 provided national structure for the killings that took place in Negros, Panay and Calabarzon.
The group noted the resolution of the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee – Cordillera Region signed by 47 police and government officials, which states:
“Whereas a strategy is needed in addressing the insurgency problem of the Cordillera Region. This could be by way of the ‘Oplan Tokhang’ strategy being used in the government’s war on drugs by visiting/knocking on their residences and plea for them to stop dealing and using drugs. The same concept is envisioned to known left-leaning personalities by visiting/knocking on their respective residences and plea or dissuade them from further supporting, or being active members of the CPP-NPA-NDF or any of its known Front Organizations.”
The group also said that the same method of killing was used against the nine activists in the Calabarzon provinces last March 7, which is known as the “Bloody Sunday” incident.
The report read, “Task Forces which combine the military, police, Justice Department and Local Government – in fact all executive agencies of government at all levels – have now been formed down to the municipality level. These combine intelligence gathering, propaganda aggression (red-tagging), judicial aggression (phony charges), illegal detention (arbitrary warrants to search and arrest), illegal arrest (planted evidence) and assassination.”
“These new mechanisms are part of the comprehensive counterinsurgency program, known as Oplan Kapanatagan (Stability) implemented in January 2019. It is anchored in the National Vision and National Security Policy, all applications of the United States’ Counterinsurgency (COIN) Strategy,” it added.
Investigate PH also maintained that dissenters are not only silenced through weaponization of laws, but also through the failure of the Philippine judicial system.
Speaking as a witness to the Investigate PH probe, NUPL President Edre Olalia highlighted judicial failures as reasons “why domestic legal remedies are insufficient or ineffective to bring justice to those who are unfairly criminalized, accused, imprisoned and even killed for their activism, their critiques of government policy or their political stance.”
Olalia pointed out that the “poor face slow, cumbersome, protracted and complicated legal procedure that is usually inaccessible to or biased against them, making justice elusive or very much delayed, if ever attained.”
“If there is a complaint of official abuse, what follows is an inadequate or skewed investigation and prosecution, or no action at all. Olalia noted that in human rights cases, the police investigation is either unprofessional or is used to cover-up and to shift the blame to the victims. Evidence in court is testimony-dependent and not based on forensic science,” the report read.
‘War on terror’
Investigate PH also looked into the rights abuses committed against the Moro people especially after the declaration of martial law in Mindanao after the Marawi siege in 2017.
During the press conference, Suzzane Adely, president of the National Lawyers Guild in the United States, said that through the financial and tactical support from the United States government, the Duterte administration has launched an unjust war in Mindanao, which is being justified by labeling it as war on terrorism.
“The Philippine military operations have not distinguished civilians and combatants which had led to the killing of over 1,000 civilians and displacement of hundreds of thousands,” Adely said.
The report said that in 2017 the U.S. Department of Defense established Operation Pacific Eagle – Philippines, and has since committed over USD $300 million to this program through 2020 to “support the Philippine government and military in their efforts to isolate, degrade and defeat ISIS affiliates and other terrorist organizations in the Philippines.”
It added that the “US, alongside China and Australia, have donated counter-terrorism weapons and equipment, with the U.S. specifically donating 300 M4 carbines, 200 Glock 21 pistols, four M134D Gatling-style machine guns and 100 M203 grenade launchers.”
The U.S. also donated USD $765 million worth of planes, ships, armored vehicles, small arms, and other military equipment to the Philippine government since 2015, most of which are used in Mindanao and domestic operations.
The U.S. provided support for the siege on Marawi through military training, technical assistance, surveillance via planes, drones and electronic eavesdropping, as well as American troops on the ground in Marawi, the report said.
Adely said that the deployment of military in Mindanao serves as a pretext to militarize the area to protect government and corporate interests which has resulted in rights violations.
Adely then called for the US Congress to support the Philippine Human Rights Act, which seeks to suspend US government funding to the Philippine military and police.
She said that the US military aid to the Philippines is in violation of US’s Leahy Law, which states that foreign aid should not be used to support gross violations of human rights.
“I think it’s very important to not only call for accountability of the Philippine government but also other countries who support – through military aid and sharing of intelligence, training and weapons who are abetting and compliciting in these human rights violations,” Adely said.
This second report will be submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, member states of the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General, and the International Criminal Court.
The third and final report will be launched in September, the group said.
“Throughout this investigation, we have remained steadfast in our objective to realize justice for the victims of human rights violations in the Philippines. The report must go beyond evidence gathering and be a contribution to the process of accountability and an end to the injustice,” Rev. Michael Blair, who is also one of the High Commissioners said. (RVO)