Philippines: Duterte vows to continue ‘war on drugs’

President Duterte’s own statements make clear that the Philippines’ “war on drugs” continues. All that has changed so far is that a police unit has been shut down temporarily. The 33 cases, most of them extrajudicial executions at the hands of the police that our report documents must still be independently investigated. So must the more than 7,000 other deaths.

Anyone responsible for these killings, whatever their rank or status in the police or the government, must be held accountable. Victims’ families – the vast majority of them poor – must get redress.

The problem is not a few rogue officers, but an inherently cruel system where there are incentives to kill people who do not pose a threat to life – and even their alleged involvement in drugs is based on little or no evidence. Acting on instructions from the very top of government, the police operated outside the law, taking payments for killing alleged drug offenders, or paying others to do their dirty work for them.

Any other body that takes over from police to play a lead role in law enforcement operations must uphold the same international human rights standards. They must break with an ugly past where poor people were disproportionately targeted because their names appeared on unverified lists of alleged drug offenders. Anyone suspected of a drug-related offence may only be dealt with according to due process, including a fair trial, should it come to that.

We have very real concerns about whether the Philippine body newly tasked with enforcing anti-drug laws will be capable of meeting these expectations. The Philippines Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reports directly to President Rodrigo Duterte, who now condemns the police as corrupt, but has not abandoned his murderous rhetoric calling on Filipinos to take the law into their own hands and kill anyone they suspect of using or selling drugs.

The PDEA is also headed by a former police general who was appointed by Rodrigo Duterte and served as a police director in Davao City, where the current President served as mayor and oversaw a violent “war on drugs”.

Closing down the police’s anti-illegal drugs unit and removing them from the “war on drugs” does not end the problem. There must be an independent and impartial investigation into any and all human rights violations members of that unit have committed, not least extrajudicial executions. And these investigations must include the officials whose orders they were working under, regardless of their rank, influence or status.