By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

HIGH-RANKING policemen responsible for wrongful deaths in the Duterte government’s war on drugs would be prosecuted, according to the Philippine Justice chief.

“That will happen,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told BusinessWorld in a Viber message on Sunday night in response to calls for the government to hold top-level police officers accountable for drug war killings.

Last week, a Caloocan trial court 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 up to 40 years in jail.

Josalee S. Deinla, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, was skeptical of the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) commitment to prosecute higher-ranked cops.

“DoJ will have to improve case buildup by, among others, pursuing serious efforts to detect the perpetrators and enhancing the capacities of law enforcement authorities on evidence-gathering and preservation,” she said in a Viber message.

Union President Ephraim B. Cortez earlier said the conviction of the cop, who held the lowest rank in the police force, should cause a “sigh of relief” for drug war victims.

But the policeman’s superiors have not been brought to justice and that adds to the culture of impunity in the country, he said in a Viber message on Nov. 26.

Mr. Remulla has said he wanted to extend the Witness Protection Program to police officers who are willing to testify on extralegal killings under the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

He said a number of cases lacked witnesses since many families decided not to testify.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement on Monday, Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr. said 24,159 drug suspects got arrested from July 1 to Nov. 24. About P9.9 billion worth of illegal drugs were seized during the period, he said.

“This number is a clear indication of the continued strict enforcement of our anti-drug campaign,” he said in Filipino. “We will continue catching drug pushers and drug lords.”

In August, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. told police to temper their use of force while enforcing the law. Mr. Abalos said in July the drug war would be “as intensive as before.”

National police chief Rodolfo S. Azurin, Jr. told a press briefing last week police had killed 46 suspects during illegal drug operations five months into Mr. Marcos’ term.

At least 25 police officers have been charged with murder in connection with ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly drug war, Mr. Remulla told the United Nations  (UN) Human Rights Council this month.

An inter-agency task force had investigated at least 17,000 cops, he added.

There were 221-drug-related killings from January to August this year, Human Rights Watch said in September, citing a joint study by the University of the Philippines and Belgium’s Ghent University.

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 UN Rights Committee has said the government should cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s probe of the drug war.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said the country’s probe of human rights abuses in the drug war lacked transparency.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra has said the country would block an investigation by the International Criminal Court on the drug war and ensure suspects were tried under local courts.

The Philippines accepted 200 recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council — including investigating extralegal killings and protecting journalists — during its periodic review of the country’s human rights situation this month.

It also agreed to combat gender discrimination and violence, protect human rights defenders, avoid reinstating capital punishment and comply with a UN program on accountability measures and data gathering on police abuses, among other things.

The Philippines will respond to the remaining 89 recommendations “in due course,” Mr. Remulla said earlier.

More than 30 member-states of the UN Human Rights Council have urged the Philippine government to do something about extralegal killings and human rights abuses in extralegal killings in connection with Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

“We can’t say if the prosecution of high-level perpetrators from the ranks of the police will happen,” Ms. Deinla said “We need to see it to believe it.”