Revisiting senatoriables’ stand on Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ and political killings

Bulatlat revisits the public statements made by selected senatorial candidates on these two important issues to guide voters in choosing their bets.

With research from Emily Vital and Janess Ann Ellao
Graphics by Ipe Soco

MANILA – The Duterte administration’s record on human rights violations drew condemnation not only from Philippine-based human rights groups but also from the international community.

This year’s election is crucial for human rights defenders who have been demanding the prosecution of Duterte for publicly ordering the killing of drug suspects and political dissenters maliciously tagged as “communists-terrorists.”

Bulatlat revisits the public statements made by selected senatorial candidates on these two important issues to guide voters in choosing their bets.

During his term at the House of Representatives, then Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat called for an investigation of extrajudicial killings related to the campaign against illegal drugs. In 2017, Baguilat filed a resolution but the House leadership did not prioritize it.

For Baguilat, the use of drugs is a mental health problem and a social problem. He stressed that poverty “forces people to enter a life of crime or to be drug addicts.” He said that solving drug problems is not only through law enforcement but should include social and mental health dimensions.

In his reaction to the filing of House Bill 7814, Jejomar Binay said that the fight against illegal drugs should not trample upon the people’s basic rights. The said bill presumes suspected importers, financiers, or protectors of illegal drugs guilty upon apprehension. It also seeks to amend the existing Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“We all share a concern over the proliferation of illegal drugs. But fighting it should not be at the expense of our basic rights and due process,” Binay said in a report.

Neri Colmenares is among the lawyers who assisted the families of those who were slain in the government’s drug war in filing a complaint at the International Criminal Court in 2018.

He also criticized the Department of Justice’s findings on the 52 cases linked to the war on drugs calling it “just a tip of the iceberg.”

In an article, Colmenares said that the administration that will succeed Duterte “must once and for all address the continuing impunity of the police and the military, by ensuring that those who committed these crimes are punished.”

He also called for the creation of an independent tribunal that will look into the cases of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and activists and will hold those responsible to account. “Without justice and accountability, extra judicial killings will continue,” Colmenares was quoted as saying.

Elmer Labog has always supported the relatives of victims of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and their quest for justice.

“Naghihikahos na nga ang mamamayang Pilipino dahil sa kawalan ng suporta mula sa gobyerno, paparatangan at papatayin pa sila habang sila’y nagsusumikap na humanap ng paraan upang mabuhay,” Labog was quoted as saying in a news report about seeking justice for victims of the government’s war on drugs.

Antonio Trillanes also criticized the war on drugs, describing the casualties killed under the government’s campaign against illegal drugs as much more than those slain in Sept. 11, 2001 attack in the US. He also called the government’s campaign as “sham” and only meant to strike fear to establish dictatorship. Trillanes, however, has not made any statement on the killings of activists.

Sen. Leila De Lima started investigating the drug-related killings since she became the chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights during the Arroyo administration. She conducted a probe on summary executions of petty criminals and the likes allegedly being carried out by vigilante group Davao Death Squad. President Duterte was the mayor of Davao then and reportedly controlled the vigilante group.

She pursued her investigation when she was appointed as justice secretary of the Aquino administration. In 2016, after winning a seat at the Senate and becoming the chairperson of the Senate’s Justice and Human-Rights Committee, De Lima initiated investigation of Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs policy. She was eventually ousted from her post in the same year.

De Lima also expressed her intention to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on summary execution to look into the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country. Because of this, she was charged with three drug-related charges and has been jailed since 2017.

In February 2021, the court dismissed one out of the three charges against De Lima. De Lima continued her work as a Senator despite being in jail. She is also consistent in criticizing the Duterte administration for intensifying rights abuses. In 2019, De Lima renewed her call for the government to invite UN experts to look into the drug-related and political killings.

“If this administration really thinks it has done nothing wrong, I challenge the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to extend formal invitation to the UN special rapporteurs so that they can find out for themselves the real situation here,” De Lima said in an article.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also expressed opposition on the war on drugs. She called for the suspension of the drug-war after the police got involved in the abduction of Korean trader Jee Ick-joo from his Pampanga home under the guise of an anti-drug operation. “This style of war on drugs clearly suffers from human rights and legal deficiencies,” she said.

Chel Diokno, who has been the chairperson of Free Legal Assistance Group since 2003, has represented human rights victims, activists and journalists in both criminal cases and special proceedings. Diokno also expressed opposition to Duterte’s drug war.

In 2019, Diokno said that “killings in the name of the war on drugs constitute crimes against humanity. Not just because of the number of killings but because they are a deliberate attack on a very clear segment of the civilian population here in the country.”

He also criticized the DOJ’s review of 52 drug-related cases saying that it “barely scratches the surface” and “grossly insufficient.” Diokno is among the lawyers who formed “Manlaban sa EJK,” a coalition of lawyers, legal experts and law school associations that campaigns against extrajudicial killings, threats to freedom of expression and attacks against human rights defenders.

Raffy Tulfo, meanwhile, said that Duterte’s war on drugs is a failure, citing the latter’s promise to end it within six months after he assumed the presidency. He also said that those who are involved in illegal drugs should be given another chance.

Escudero also made a stand on Duterte’s war on drugs during his term as senator in the 17th Congress. He joined other senators in pushing for an impartial investigation on drug-related killings.

He was also among the Senators who signed a resolution calling on the government to stop killings of minors.
He also called on Duterte and then Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa to immediately act on the killing of 19-year old Kian Delos Santos “because the poor boy was not even an addict much less a pusher.”

Those who supported the Duterte administration’s war on drugs are Senators Gatchalian, Villanueva and Zubiri.

For Gatchalian a leader with strong hands can curb the drug menace. But despite his support to the government’s war on drugs, Gatchalian criticized the increasing extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and signed a resolution condemning the killing of Delos Santos and other drug-related killings.

Gatchalian also absolved Duterte of any liability on the bloody implementation of the government’s anti-illegal drugs policy. In an article, Gatchalian said “Duterte could not be faulted because despite the government’s heavy hand against illegal drugs, huge quantities of cocaine were found floating off the country’s shores,” the news report said.

In a statement, Zubiri said PNP should be congratulated for the work that they have done.

Cayetano defended the drug policy of Duterte administration. He said the war on drugs is not a war against the poor.

In a statement, he said the anti-illegal drug and criminality policy “actually aims to alleviate poverty by saving poor Filipino families from the drug menace that ruins so many lives.” He also said that the “increase in police operations in the urban poor areas seeks to deter drug pushers operating in such areas.”

During his stint as Foreign Affairs Secretary, Cayetano further justified Duterte’s anti-illegal drug policy at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018. He said that the government did not only prevent the country from becoming a narco-state, it has also helped to protect the rights of the Filipino.

He also defended the Duterte government from criticisms who are saying that the Philippines’ human rights situation is worse under his administration. He also alleged that human rights organizations are being used by drug lords to discredit the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

Robin Padilla, another Duterte supporter said in a television interview said that Duterte’s war on drugs is most successful. He also said that extrajudicial killing is part of the fight against illegal drugs.

Roque, as presidential spokesperson, has defended his principal from criticisms including the bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

In 2021, when ICC then Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested for judicial authorization to proceed with an investigation, Roque said it is legally erroneous, if ever a formal investigation will ensue because the ICC has no jurisdiction to the Philippine government. The Philippine government has withdrawn from the Rome statute which took effect in March 2019. Roque also said that the government will not cooperate with the ICC.

When the UN Human Rights Council adopted the Iceland resolution to investigate the killings in the Philippines, Roque called the international body as a “toothless tiger.” “At most, it (UNHRC) amounts to a sort of shaming machinery intended to prod UN member countries into complying with their treaty obligations to protect and promote human rights,” Roque said.

Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro also expressed his opposition against the idea of the ICC probing the drug related killings in the Philippines. “I was always against the ICC because that means that your own institutions are weak and are not strong enough and you will allow another body to investigate happenings within your own country,” Teodoro said in a television interview.

In another report, Teodoro said that during his term in the Department of Defense, they opposed the Philippine membership at the ICC. He also believes that a foreign court cannot have jurisdiction over other countries like the Philippines. “You cannot have a foreigner judging you on what is right or wrong and even in the application of the ICC statutes, those that are strong won’t ever get prosecuted,” he said.

After De Lima’s ouster as the chairperson of Committee on Justice and Human Rights in September 2016, Gordon, who replaced De Lima as chair, ended the hearings on extrajudicial killings in October of the same year.

Prior to the release of the committee report, Gordon said in a news report that there is no proof that the killings is a state policy or that Duterte ordered the killings. He said that it is only De Lima who is implicating that the killings are state sponsored since she and Duterte have differences.

“There is really an effort to try to pin down Mayor or President Duterte. For all we know, guilty or not is President Duterte (whether President Duterte is guilty or not), there was an effort. There’s obviously an antecedent,” Gordon was quoted as saying in the report.

On political killings

Diokno, Labog, and Colmenares were consistent in asserting people’s basic human rights. They were also consistent in voicing out their opposition against oppressive policies such as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

De Lima is also consistent in condemning the spate of arrests and killings of activists.

“Whether it’s drugs, insurgency, COVID-19 or poverty, he [Duterte], indeed, governs through violence and killings. 2016 pa lang, pumapatay na ang rehimeng ito. Duterte’s latest marching order is just a reiteration and a reminder of his long-standing policy of brutally eliminating perceived enemies,” De Lima said in one of her Dispatch from Crame statements regarding the killing of nine activists in Southern Tagalog.

Binay also criticized the killing of nine activists in Southern Tagalog on March 9, 2021, saying that they are not armed combatants. “There is a very big difference. And when officials encourage, condone, and even defend the killing of unarmed civilians, there is a clear breakdown in civil governance. We have become a lawless State,” Binay said on Twitter.

In 2020, Hontiveros sought for a senate inquiry on vigilante killings after red-tagged doctor, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband were killed in Negros Oriental. She also considered filing a bill penalizing red-tagging as a crime after the killing of nine activists in Southern Tagalog bukain March last year.

In a statement Hontiveros said, “Those fighting to protect our basic rights should not be silenced.”

In 2009 under President Gloria Arroyo, Antique Rep. Loren Legarda said it is political will and not monetary rewards that will stop politically motivated killings. This was when the Arroyo government asked the legislators to help raise a P25-million fund to help solve politically motivated killings.

In 2009, Escudero denounced the gruesome killing of Rebelyn Pitao, daughter of slain guerrilla fighter, Leoncio Pitao aka Ka Parago. He also denounced killing activists in Sorsogon.

Teodoro was Arroyo’s former defense secretary. In a 2009 report, human rights group Karapatan Arroyo and Teodoro’s constant claims that they have defeated the armed revolutionary movement through their counterinsurgency Oplan Bantay Laya only legitimized military operations that resulted in human rights violations.

Under President Arroyo, more than a thousand were extrajudicially killed, more than 200 abducted, and nearly 2,000 illegal arrests.

In 2020, Roque dismissed the statement of the rights activists that state forces are behind the killing of their colleagues.

“Blaming state forces as the people behind these murders is unfounded,” Roque said, adding that investigation on the killings of peace consultant Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez is underway.   Roque was a former human rights lawyer during the administration of President Arroyo.

Zubiri, Gatchalian, Villanueva meanwhile filed Senate Resolution No. 600, which sought a legislative inquiry into the “series of unlawful killings of citizens, including doctors, lawyers, journalists, and members of other professions.”

Villanueva was also among the senators who favored the defunding of the NTF-ELCAC for its red-tagging practice.

Gordon, on the other hand, joined the calls for investigation on the killing of nine activists and arrest of six others in Southern Tagalog. (RTS, RVO) (

Share This Post