Amnesty to UN: Probe Duterte’s ‘crimes against humanity’

Rights group blasts Philippine police abuses as former top enforcer defends recent deadly raid saying ‘s*** happens’.

Mindanao, the Philippines – In the early morning hours of June 29, a team of about 20 police officers converged on the home of an alleged drug dealer in the province of Rizal, just east of Manila, the Philippines’ capital.

The two drug suspects they were hunting were killed on-the-spot in what the police report described as a “shootout” but an undercover officer and the three-year-old daughter of one of the suspects were also shot, and later died.

Police said the main suspect used his daughter, Myka Ulpina, to protect himself as the two men fought back. Myka is one of more than 100 children killed in operations linked to the ongoing drug war, either targeted or caught in the crossfire.

Myka’s mother told reporters it was “impossible” for her husband to use their daughter as a shield, because the family was still sleeping at the time of the raid and insisted her husband was executed.

In response, the police ordered the suspension of all officers involved in the raid and directed them to surrender their firearms for laboratory tests. A police spokesman said the toddler’s death was an “accident nobody wanted”.

‘Murderous war’

Ulpina is one of thousands of casualties of what Amnesty International calls President Rodrigo Duterte‘s “murderous war on drugs”. On Monday, it called on the United Nations to conduct an “urgent” investigation into the killings.

The human rights group said extrajudicial executions by police remain “rampant”, and the scale of abuses has already reached “the threshold of crimes against humanity”.

In another case Al Jazeera previously investigated in the central Philippines, it was revealed that a slain drug suspect neither evaded arrest, nor engaged in a gunfight when he was flagged down by police for questioning. He was driving his motorbike with one hand and holding his four-year-old daughter, Althea Fhem Barbon, with the other.

The bullets pierced through his body, also hitting Althea who died four days after the September 2016 shooting on the island of Negros.

One news article claimed the suspect used Althea as a shield and a decoy allegedly to deliver drugs. Another report said the officers did not see the child when they fired at her father.

Rowena Lorica, Althea’s mother, later told Al Jazeera that her estranged husband and their daughter were only heading to a park to buy ice cream when the killings took place. She said he never owned a gun. Lorica also said several people witnessed the shooting and the “planting of evidence”, but were too afraid to give evidence.

Asked on Thursday about the deaths of children during drug raids, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, Duterte’s former police chief and top enforcer of the drug war, told reporters in Manila that authorities “never intend” to harm the innocent during anti-narcotics operations. 

“S*** happens during operations. S*** happens. Honest to goodness, there are some collateral damage,” dela Rosa quipped, igniting a firestorm of condemnation.


‘Manufactured’ lists

The Philippine police acknowledged that at least 6,600 people were killed during the first half of Duterte’s six-year presidency, all of them in shootouts with police. Other human rights groups say the death toll has surpassed 27,000, with many cases either perpetrated by undercover police officers, or gunmen contracted by police.

On Monday, Amnesty said its latest investigation showed police operate with “total impunity as they murder people from poor neighbourhoods whose names appear on manufactured ‘drug watch lists’ established outside of any legal process.”

“Three years on, President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

“It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable.”

Amnesty said its latest investigation covered 27 deaths that took place in the province of Bulacan, just outside of Metro Manila, between May 2018 and April 2019.

The report said there is a “pattern” in the cases, in which police “claim the same ‘buy-bust’ justification” of undercover officers conducting a drug sting and suspects supposedly fighting back, “prompting” police to respond with deadly force.

In one case police claimed a 30-year-old father of three fired at them, and they had recovered a .38 calibre pistol and sachets of illegal drugs.

Witnesses, however, told Amnesty the man, identified as Jovan Magtanong, was sleeping alongside his children when officers knocked on his house door asking for another man. Jovan’s family said he did not own a gun and had not used drugs for more than a year.

“They killed him like an animal,” a family member told Amnesty.


Brutal campaign

The report said the Philippines’ “bloodiest killing field” was no longer Metro Manila but neighbouring Bulacan, where the president has transferred and promoted senior police officers.

One officer is identified as Bulacan’s provincial director Senior Superintendent Chito Bersaluna. He was the police chief of a district in Metro Manila at the time of the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August 2017. Kian’s killing by police officers was partly captured on closed-circuit television.

Bersaluna was put on “administrative leave” but was never charged. Three junior officers were found guilty of the killing and are serving between 20 and 40 years in prison.

“The Duterte administration’s continuing efforts to deny and deflect responsibility are nothing short of mendacious,” Bequelin added in the report.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch in the Philippines, said police accounts of deadly drug raids “are not reliable because the officers … have been shown to manufacture evidence” such as planting weapons to justify the killings.

“Deceit has become the hallmark of this brutal campaign,” he said.

Conde also denounced Duterte’s ally, Senator dela Rosa for his “uncaring” and “contemptuous” statement, particularly to the young victims of the drug war. 

“He, too, will answer for his complicity in the slaughter of thousands.” 

Last week, Iceland led a call urging the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to investigate the killings in the Philippines under Duterte.

Filipino diplomats reportedly walked out of the meeting in Geneva when the resolution was proposed.

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government is “prepared” to face the inquiry.

Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, meanwhile called the proposal an “outrageous interference” on the Philippine’s sovereignty.

The Human Rights Council will conclude its latest session on Friday and the resolution is expected to go to a vote this week.

In February 2018, the International Criminal Court also launched a preliminary probe into Duterte’s anti-drug war, prompting the president to withdraw the country from its treaty. Human rights groups hope it will soon open a full investigation.

Source: Al Jazeera