By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
THE DEPARTMENT of Justice (DoJ) on Wednesday vowed to revive an inter-agency task force that probed unlawful deaths in the Philippine government’s deadly war on drugs.
At the fifth United Nations (UN) Joint Program on Human Rights Steering Committee meeting at the DoJ office in Manila, Justice Undersecretary Raul T. Vasquez said the task force would work on improving case buildup against erring cops.
“The department will endeavor on reconstituting the inter-agency review panel in order to reinforce the team and to inject the new paradigm on the case buildup and eventual prosecution of all the malefactors,” according to a speech by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla that Mr. Vasquez read.
“We will work towards the hastening of investigation of unlawful deaths in the context of anti-illegal drug operations.”
The inter-agency committee formed 15 teams in 2021 that probed extralegal killings and human rights violations in connection with the government’s anti-illegal drug operations.
The task force also investigated at least 17,000 policemen.
In 2021, the Philippines and United Nations launched the joint program on human rights to bolster cooperation between on human rights-based approaches to address rampant drug abuse in the country.
Mr. Remulla earlier invited Morris Tidball-Binz, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to hold programs to improve local capacity in investigating drug war killings.
Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, welcomed the commitment but cited the failure of the task force to prosecute erring cops in the past.
“If they can make it work, why not,” he said in a Viber message. “But problems in investigation and prosecution persist despite the creation of various bodies before.”
Mr. Cortez cited the DoJ’s dismissal of a murder complaint against police officers despite substantial evidence in connection with the murder of a labor activist and nine other activists in 2021.
“The task force had failed to accomplish its goal to prosecute the killers and to gather evidence and investigate these cases,” he said.
The Justice department also plans to set up its own human rights office, which DoJ said would be the first of its kind in the country.
The Philippines has accepted more than 200 recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council, including investigating extralegal killings and protecting journalists.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in January reopened its probe of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, saying it was not satisfied with Philippine efforts to probe human rights abuses.
ICC Prosecutor Karin Ahmad A. Khan has said the Duterte government had condoned crimes committed during the drug war.
Mr. Duterte canceled Philippine membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2018. Mr. Marcos Jr. has said the Philippines would not rejoin the international tribunal, noting that the probe is a threat to Philippine sovereignty.
The Philippine Human Rights Commission has said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent probes and failing to prosecute erring cops.
The UN Human rights Committee has said the Philippines should comply with international human rights mechanisms and cooperate with the ICC’s drug war probe.
In February, a delegation of European Union lawmakers that visited the Philippines urged the government to rejoin the ICC to show its commitment to human rights.
The government estimates that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers were killed in police operations. Human rights groups say as many as 30,000 suspects died.
“I invite all our partner agencies and partner institutions to optimize all available resources, expertise and opportunities to achieve these goals,” according to Mr. Remulla’s speech.
“Let us continue to work towards uplifting further the rights of every individual and continuously improving human rights conditions in the country.”