WATCH | HRW claims cops falsify evidence to justify drug war killings
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(UPDATED - 9:30 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines - A month after Amnesty International released a controversial report claiming police and hired guns were being paid to kill drug suspects, another human rights watchdog said law enforcers routinely planted or falsified evidence to justify what amount to murder.
Human Rights Watch, in a report released Thursday, also urged the United Nations to “urgently create an independent, international investigation into the killings to determine responsibility, and ensure mechanisms for accountability,” adding that “President Rodrigo Duterte and other senior officials have instigated and incited killings of mostly urban poor in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.”
“Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ could more aptly be described as crimes against humanity targeting the urban poor,” Peter Bouckaert, HRW emergencies director and author of “License to Kill’: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’,” said.
“Our investigations into the Philippine ‘drug war’ found that police routinely kill drug suspects in cold blood and then cover up their crime by planting drugs and guns at the scene,” he said. “President Duterte’s role in these killings makes him ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands.”
Since he took office last year, various counts place the death toll thus far in Duterte's war on drugs at anywhere from more than 7,000 to more than 8,000 and steadily rising despite his order suspending police anti-narcotics operations following the discovery that a Korean businessman had been abducted and murdered by a gang of law enforcers.
The HRW report relies on the accounts of 28 witnesses to killings and relatives of the victims, as well as journalists and human rights activists.
HRW said it documented the killings of 32 persons and interviewed victims’ relatives, witnesses, journalists and human rights activists, and also “references initial police reports of killings, which Human Rights Watch field research consistently contradicted.”
Among those interviewed for the report was the widow of Bonifacio Antonio who told HRW that she used to approve of the killings, believing Duterte was "fixing our country."
WATCH HRW'S REPORT ON THE DEATH OF BONIFACIO ANTONIO:
The HRW reort said that, aside from executions by unknown gunmen, often with “uniformed police on the outskirts of the incident, securing the perimeter,” law enforcers “have repeatedly carried out extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, and then falsely claimed self-defense.”
Police officers, it said, “plant guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets on their victims’ bodies to implicate them in drug activities.”
And in several instances, HRW said, “suspects in police custody were later found dead and classified by police as ‘found bodies’ or ‘deaths under investigation.’ No one has been meaningfully investigated, let alone prosecuted, for any of the ‘drug war’ killings.”
While acknowledging that “no evidence thus far shows that Duterte planned or ordered specific extrajudicial killings,” HRW said his “his repeated calls for killings as part of his anti-drug campaign could constitute acts instigating law enforcement to commit murder” and could thus make him “and his chief subordinates … criminally liable in the Philippines or by a court abroad for their role in these killings.”
“His statements encouraging the general population to commit vigilante violence against suspected drug users could be criminal incitement,” it added.
“Whether local outrage, global pressure, or an international inquiry brings these killings to an end, someday they will stop and those responsible will be brought to justice,” Bouckaert said.
WATCH HRW'S VIDEO REPORT ON THE PLANTING OF EVIDENCE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS:
HERE ARE SELECTED ACCOUNTS FROM THE HRW REPORT:
On the afternoon of October 14, 2016, four masked gunmen stormed the Manila home of Paquito Mejos, a 53-year-old father of five who worked as an electrician on construction sites. An occasional user of shabu, a methamphetamine, Mejos had turned himself in to local authorities two days earlier after learning he was on a “watch list” of drug suspects. The gunmen asked for Mejos, who was napping upstairs. “When I saw them with their handguns going upstairs,” a relative said, “I told them, ‘But he has already surrendered to the authorities!’ They told me to shut up, or I would be next.”
Two gunshots rang out. Police investigators arrived moments later and were assisted by the gunmen. In their report, the police referred to Mejos as “a suspected drug pusher” who “pointed his gun [at the police] but the police officers were able to shoot him first hitting him on the body causing his instantaneous death.” They said a shabu packet was found along with a handgun. “But Paquito never had a gun,” said his relative. “And he did not have any shabu that day.”
A barangay (neighborhood) official told Rogie Sebastian, 32, to surrender to the police because he was on the “watch list” as a drug user. He had given up drug use months earlier, so did not go. Two weeks later, three armed masked men wearing bulletproof vests arrived at his home in Manila and handcuffed him. “I could hear Rogie begging for his life from outside the room,” a relative said. “We were crying and the other armed man threatened to kill us as well.” A neighbor said: “I heard the gunshots. There were also uniformed cops outside, they did not go inside the house. But the three killers in civilian clothes came and went on a motorcycle without any interference from the uniformed cops.”
Oscar Dela Cruz
Five masked, armed men broke into a house in Bulacan province where Oscar Dela Cruz, 43, was playing cards. A relative said: “[W]e could see him kneeling in a surrendering position. The men grabbed him and slammed him into a concrete wall several times, and then they threw him … outside. We saw the shooting, we were just there. Oliver’s face was bleeding from being hit, and he was begging them for mercy when he was shot.”
After the shooting of Ogie Sumangue, 19, in Manila, uniformed police showed Sumangue’s relatives his body in the house, and a .45-caliber handgun next to his body. Family members said that Sumangue could not afford and did not possess a gun and therefore could not possibly have attempted to shoot at the police. “He cannot even pay the rent,” a relative said. “His sister paid the rent for him.”
Aljon and Danilo Mesa and Jimboy Bolasa
Six masked armed men burst into a Manila home where a small group, including several teenagers, were watching television. The men arrested and beat drug suspects Aljon Mesa and Jimboy Bolasa, and then took them away on motorcycles. A half-hour later, after hearing from a uniformed policeman, relatives rushed to a nearby bridge to find Aljon and Bolasa’s bodies, both with gunshot wounds to the head, their hands tied with cloth. The gunmen were still at the scene, while uniformed police cordoned off the area. The police report, headed “Found Bodies,” claims that a “concerned citizen” alerted the police to the presence of two dead bodies.
A week after Aljon Mesa’s killing, 10 police officers, some in civilian clothes, arrested his brother Danilo Mesa and took him to the local barangay office. That evening, masked, armed men abducted him from the barangay office; shortly afterwards, his body was found under a bridge a block away. His relatives said that his entire head had been wrapped in packing tape, and his hands had been tied behind his back. He had been shot execution-style through the mouth.
Relatives of Edward Sentorias, 34, a jobless father of three killed by the police in Manila, said they had no hope for an investigation of the police: “I saw one of the police go inside with an aluminum briefcase … [He took] out the gun and some [shabu] sachets, and placed them there [by Sentorias’ body]. I went back to where I was, and was totally shocked. I couldn’t even complain. If we go complain, what is our chance against the authorities?
Click and watch the video report of News5's Maricel Halili below: