THE PHILIPPINE government should prosecute higher ranking police officers who could be responsible for wrongful deaths in former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly drug war, according to a human rights lawyer.
“The recent Caloocan court ruling is a sigh of relief since at least someone was held accountable for one of the thousands of drug-related killings,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said in a Viber message.
“However, it’s the ordinary policemen that were held accountable not the responsible officers responsible for the implementation of the anti-drug campaign,” Mr. Cortez added.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.
The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Branch 122 convicted a cop for torturing two teenagers and planting firearm ammunition, packets of marijuana leaves and crystal meth at the crime scene. He was sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of jail time.
In 2018, government prosecutors filed charges before the Caloocan court against two policemen involved in the killings of 19-year-old Carl Angelo M. Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” D. De Guzman.
The other cop died of hepatitis in 2019 while in detention.
The court ruled that the two cops had the motive to plant ammunition on the teenagers to support their story of a shootout after Mr. Arnaiz supposedly robbed a taxi driver.
Mr. Cortez noted that while the convicted cop — ranked a police officer 1, the lowest among uniformed personnel of the Philippine National Police — serves his sentence, his superiors have not been brought to justice.
“They are scot-free while their men are facing all the charges,” he said.
At least 25 policemen have been charged with murder in connection with Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, Mr. Remulla told the United Nations Human Rights Council this month.
An inter-agency task force on extralegal killings had investigated at least 17,000 cops, he noted.
“Carl and Kulot were just 2 of the thousands of victims of drug-related killings. In all of these cases, none of the (top-level) perpetrators have been identified, investigated and prosecuted, thereby fostering impunity,” Mr. Cortez said.
Justice Undersecretary Hermogenes T. Andres earlier said the Department of Justice is confident with evidence in seven ongoing drug war cases.
Mr. Cortez said the government should also encourage the families of drug war victims to come out and file cases.
The Justice chief has said many of the cases involving erring cops lack witnesses since many families decide not to testify.
At least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June last year. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.
“The cases will only prosper if there is proper police investigation to guarantee the presentation of evidence,” Mr. Cortez said.
“Without an honest-to-goodness investigation, the perpetrators will not be identified and prosecuted.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez