U.S. State Report: Fix EJKs, justice system in PH

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The 2016 U.S. State Department report on human rights show that the Philippines' top concerns are extrajudicial killings, lack of due process, and the flawed justice system.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Extrajudicial killings, disregard for due process, and a weak criminal justice system are the most pressing human rights problems in the Philippines, the United States' annual State Department report claimed.

Published on Friday, the report accounted for all civil, political, and labor human rights of nearly 200 countries and territories worldwide in 2016.

The State Department report on the Philippines noted the increasing concern over criminality and impunity within the police force, and President Rodrigo Duterte's public rejection of critics on his declared war on drugs – with over 6,000 suspected drug-related killings.

"There were numerous reports that the PNP committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with a government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by unknown assailants and antigovernment insurgents continued," the report stated.

The report also mentioned the murder of Rolando Espinosa, mayor of Albuera, Leyte, during the execution of a search warrant, and the killing of Citizens Crime Watch regional director Zenaida Luz.

'Harsh' prison and detention centers

The U.S. report also pointed out that prisons in the Philippines were subject to 'gross overcrowding' and had inadequate food, sanitation, and medical care.

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) currently houses 41,532 prisoners in seven prisons, which is around 2.5 times its official capacity of 16,010.

Nine hundred thirty-two city, district, municipal and provincial jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) hold an average of more than four times their original capacity of detainees. The report adds that 98 percent of all detainees are jailed in pretrial.

From January to July last year, both the BuCor and the BJMP had 713 deaths within or during detention.

VP Robredo, Senator Recto: Don't ignore reports

The United States' report is the latest of three recently released reports on the human rights situation in the Philippines-the first one from Amnesty International last February 22, and the second one from private entity Human Rights Watch released on Thursday.

Vice President Leni Robredo said President Rodrigo Duterte's administration should not "brush off" such "independent" reports on human rights rendering similar findings.

"Ang purpose lang naman ng pagkakaroon ng report is to call the attention ng ating mga namumuno na meron nang mga pagkakasala na ginagawa sa ating mga kababayan," said Robredo, currently in Cebu for a series of fora.

[Translation: The purpose of this report is to call the attention of our leaders who have done wrong by our countrymen.]

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also agreed with some passages in the State Department report, particularly its observations on "a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators."

In a statement, Senator Recto noted that the judiciary has a backlog of 600,000 cases, with court proceedings slowed down by vacancies in judgeship, affecting the law enforcement, public defense and detention systems.

"We have long been aware of that, and we have long pleaded guilty to that charge. The said report merely reiterates a crisis we have long been grappling with," Recto said.

Abella: "Public need not worry about disappearances"

In a statement issued Sunday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said President Rodrigo Duterte has always allowed political dissent, contrary to other's beliefs.

"The fact that the President himself and his administration are not spared from criticisms, even of the harshest kind, demonstrares that democracy and free speech are alive and vibrant as ever here in the country," Abella noted.

Abella concurred with the U.S. State Department report's observation that there have been no politically motivated disappearances during Duterte's term, in line with the administration's goal to encourage free-flowing communication between the government and the public.