Duterte encourages vigilante killings, tolerates police modus – Human Rights Watch

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte is to blame for thousands of drug-related killings by police and vigilante groups, says an international rights group.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday said in an 80-page report titled "License To Kill: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte's 'War on Drugs," that Duterte encourages vigilante killings of drug suspects and condones police misconduct.

"Even if not directly involved in any specific operations to summarily execute any specific individual, President Duterte appears to have instigated unlawful acts by the police, incited citizens to commit serious violence, and made himself criminal liable under international law for the unlawful killings as a matter of command responsibility," the report said.

HRW: Drug killings a police-operated modus

HRW followed and examined 24 incidents from October 2016 to January 2017, all involving operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The 24 incidents resulted in 32 deaths, HRW said.

The investigating team led by HRW Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert found the official spot reports by the police of these incidents, saying the suspects were killed because they resisted arrest.

However, HRW claimed that the police officers planted evidence in these incidents.

"A clear modus operandi of police... To bolster their claims, the police routinely planted guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets next to the victims' bodies," the report said.

Related: Police paid per drug killing – Amnesty International

In July 2016, when President Duterte announced his war against drugs, he said he will protect police officers fulfilling their duty.

"Do your duty, and if in the process you kill one thousand persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you. And if they try to impeach me, I will hurry the process and we will go out of the service together," Duterte had then said.

But criticism of police conduct and alleged vigilante groups committing extrajudicial killings came to a head earlier this year, after it was discovered that police officers were responsible for the kidnap-slay of a South Korean businessman in October 2016.

On January 30, Duterte suspended the PNP from involvement in the war against drugs, and ordered them to rid their ranks of corrupt and abusive policemen. The anti-drugs campaign is now in the hands of the military and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). This was noted in the HRW report.

Prior to the suspension of the police from the war on drugs, 2,538 drug suspects were killed and 52,521 people were arrested during legitimate police operations. Meanwhile, more than 4,049 deaths were allegedly caused by vigilante-style killings.

"His public comments in response to those allegations are evidence that he knows about them. As their continuing public statements make clear, Duterte and his top subordinates have denied or downplayed the illegality of police actions, showing no inclination or intent to investigate alleged crimes," HRW said.

A senate investigation in November 2016 into the alleged extrajudicial killings related to the drug war found no evidence that the deaths were state-sanctioned.

PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa on Tuesday said the police is preparing to resume its role in the war on drugs. He promised better enforcement by ensuring the integrity of a new set of officers being groomed for the anti-illegal drugs unit of the PNP.

Is PH drug problem as bad as Duterte says it is?

In February, Duterte said there are four million drug addicts in the country, while the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said there are 3.7 million drug users — and not addicts — in the Philippines as of August 2016.

Bouckaert said Duterte has created a myth that the Philippines is spiraling into a lethal drug crisis.

"He tries to scare people about drug problems and then portrays himself as the only solution. Like many populists, he's built this myth around himself as a champion of the poor, but actually he comes from a very powerful political dynasty," he said.

Recommendations for drug war

The HRW called on the President "to publicly direct the Philippine National Police to end their campaign of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and users."

It also called on the National Bureau of Investigation and Ombudsman to conduct an impartial investigation and seek prosecutions for all the people found responsible.

It also asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an international and independent investigation.

To international donors, HRW recommended that they stop providing funding and assistance to the PNP until all the drug war-related killings stop.