A TOTAL of 3,257 extrajudicial killings (EJKs) were committed during the Marcos dictatorship. In contrast, there were 805 drug-related fatalities from May 10 (when Rodrigo Duterte emerged winner of the presidential election) to Aug. 12, per the Inquirer count.
If the current rate continues, the total number of EJKs for the six years of the Duterte administration will end up about 700 percent more than the killings committed during the 14 years of the Marcos dictatorship.
President Duterte is either ill-advised or terribly underestimating the risk that he can be held liable at the International Criminal Court, given the circumstances of the killings.
In 2011, the Philippines ratified the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court. Under this treaty, every Filipino, including the President, can be tried by this Court which has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity. The treaty provides that when murder is “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack,” it becomes a crime against humanity.
The possibility that the current EJKs will be considered by the International Criminal Court as amounting to a crime against humanity is a liability risk that our President is miscalculating.
Ruben Carranza, director of the New-York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, points out that “[w]hen over 500 civilians have been killed by both police and vigilantes with the clear goal of targeting them in a ‘war against drugs,’ with their impunity explicitly guaranteed by the president, then the elements of EJKs as a ‘crime against humanity of murder’ are already there—(a) widespread or systematic killings, (b) civilians are targeted, and (c) the perpetrators know or intended their conduct to be part of a widespread or systematic attack.”
On Aug. 11, Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque delivered a privilege speech in which he said: “It is clear that the civilian population is being attacked—news reports all around us overwhelmingly establish that hundreds of Filipinos have been killed either directly by governmental forces or with their support or tolerance.”
Roque likewise said: “It is also clear that the President is aware that these acts are ongoing. Even without proof of a directive on his part, he has, in many instances, spoken about the use of violence against drug syndicates.”
Roque cited the decisions of international criminal tribunals which prosecuted political and military officials for crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. These tribunals declared that “it is not necessary to show that [the crimes committed] were the result of the existence of a policy or plan” and that the plan “need not be declared expressly or even stated clearly and precisely. It may be surmised from the occurrence of a series of events.”
The party-list representative cautioned the President to be careful: “While it would be imprudent for me to say with certainty that President Duterte has already committed a crime against humanity, it would be a disservice to this entire nation if I did not warn him to be careful. Neither the Rome Statute nor general international law prescribes a minimum number of victims for an indictment. So long as the [International Criminal Court] believes that the war on drugs is ‘widespread’ and ‘systematic,’ [it is] likely to investigate.”
The President enjoys immunity under Philippine law, but he has no similar immunity for crimes under the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. Carranza says “the presidents of Sudan and Kenya were charged” in the court even during their incumbency. And there is no expiration of liability for ICC crimes, so he can be charged even long after he leaves Malacañang.
The determination of Mr. Duterte to cleanse the country of the drug menace and his willingness to risk his “life, honor, and the presidency” to achieve this goal are praiseworthy.
However, we are at that stage of our civilization where we have long abandoned the ancient practice of relying on operatives to dispense justice through the smoking barrel of their guns. We have advanced our civilization by relying on gun-wielding men to apprehend criminals, but have separately assigned the task of listening to accusations of guilt and protestations of innocence to men and women who mete out penalties.
It is true that our current justice system is notoriously imperfect and graft-prone. But we do not improve our way of life by marching back to the Dark Ages where justice is made synonymous with violence. We improve our defective justice system by fixing it, not by abandoning it.
It is true that the proliferation of drugs is partly due to corrupt judges. But it is also true that illegal drugs proliferate because of a corrupt police force and a corrupt prosecution service, both of which are executive agencies within the President’s control to reform.
It is also true that before our children become drug dependents who clog police and court dockets, there are the education, health, and social welfare departments which are executive agencies within the President’s control to tap for instructive, reformative, and curative solutions to the drug menace.
We want our President to succeed in his fight against illegal drugs. But in his haste and zeal, he may end up accused of a crime more serious than the ones perpetrated by his archenemies. The last thing our country needs is a President facing trial at the International Criminal Court.
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On the afternoon of October 14, 2016, four masked gunmen stormed the Manila home of Paquito Mejos, a 53-year-old father of five who worked as an electrician on construction sites. An occasional user of shabu, a methamphetamine, Mejos had turned himself in to local authorities two days earlier after learning he was on a “watch list” of drug suspects. The gunmen asked for Mejos, who was napping upstairs. “When I saw them with their handguns going upstairs,” a relative said, “I told them, ‘But he has already surrendered to the authorities!’ They told me to shut up, or I would be next.”
Two gunshots rang out. Police investigators arrived moments later and were assisted by the gunmen. In their report, the police referred to Mejos as “a suspected drug pusher” who “pointed his gun [at the police] but the police officers were able to shoot him first hitting him on the body causing his instantaneous death.” They said a shabu packet was found along with a handgun. “But Paquito never had a gun,” said his relative. “And he did not have any shabu that day.”
Since the inauguration of President Rodrigo Duterte on June 30, 2016, and his call for a “war on drugs,” Philippine National Police officers and unidentified “vigilantes” have killed over 7,000 people. The anti-drug campaign dubbed “Operation Double Barrel” has targeted suspected drug dealers and users ostensibly for arrest but in practice has been a campaign of extrajudicial execution in impoverished areas of Manila and other urban areas. Duterte’s outspoken endorsement of the campaign implicates him and other senior officials in possible incitement to violence, instigation of murder, and in command responsibility for crimes against humanity.
This report examines 24 incidents, resulting in 32 deaths, involving Philippine National Police personnel between October 2016 and January 2017. Human Rights Watch found that the official police reports of these incidents invariably asserted self-defense to justify police killings, contrary to eyewitness accounts that portray the killings as cold-blooded murders of unarmed drug suspects in custody. To bolster their claims, the police routinely planted guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets next to the victims’ bodies. No one has been meaningfully investigated, let alone prosecuted, for these killings.
Before being elected president, Rodrigo Duterte was the mayor of Davao City for more than two decades. There, the “Davao Death Squad” had killed hundreds of drug users, street children, and other petty criminals. While denying involvement in the death squads, Duterte endorsed their killings as an effective way to combat crime, relishing his “Duterte Harry” nickname and reputation.
Even prior to announcing his candidacy for the May 2016 presidential election, Duterte was already very clear about his intention to eliminate crime by eliminating criminals: “If by chance that God will place me there, watch out because the 1,000 [people allegedly executed while Duterte was mayor of Davao City] will become 100,000. You will see the fish in Manila Bay getting fat. That is where I will dump you.”
Duterte’s outspoken vow to embark on a nationwide killing campaign against drug dealers and drug users was the foundation of his presidential electoral platform. During a campaign rally on March 15, 2016, for example, he stated: “When I become president, I will order the police to find those people [dealing or using drugs] and kill them. The funeral parlors will be packed.”
Following his election, Duterte continued to state unequivocally that his anti-drug campaign would focus on killing drug dealers and users. Speaking in Davao City on June 4, he stated: “If you are still into drugs, I am going to kill you. Don’t take this as a joke. I’m not trying to make you laugh. Sons of bitches, I’ll really kill you.”
Since taking office, Duterte has repeatedly vowed to kill drug dealers and users in the midst of skyrocketing reports of extrajudicial executions by the police and so-called vigilantes. On August 6, he warned drug dealers: “My order is shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.” He praised the soaring body count of victims of police killings as proof of the “success” of his “war on drugs.”
The Philippine National Police announced a temporary suspension of police anti-drug operations on January 30 following revelations the previous week of the alleged brutal killing of a South Korean businessman by anti-drug police. The following day, Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to fill the gap created by the suspended police operations by taking a frontline role in the anti-drug campaign. Duterte has publicly vowed to continue his “anti-drugs” campaign until his presidential term ends in 2022.
Human Rights Watch’s investigations into specific incidents found the police responsible for extrajudicial executions—the deliberate killing by state security forces or their agents of a person in custody. A clear modus operandi of police operations emerged. In many cases, it began with an individual receiving a visit or a phone call from an official from the local barangay (neighborhood) informing them that they were on a drug “watch list” drawn up by barangay officials and the police. Such visits often proved not so much to be warnings as a method of confirming the identity and whereabouts of a target.
A barangay official told Rogie Sebastian, 32, to surrender to the police because he was on the “watch list” as a drug user. He had given up drug use months earlier, so did not go. Two weeks later three armed masked men wearing bulletproof vests arrived at his home in Manila and handcuffed him. “I could hear Rogie begging for his life from outside the room,” a relative said. “We were crying and the other armed man threatened to kill us as well.” A neighbor said: “I heard the gunshots. There were also uniformed cops outside, they did not go inside the house. But the three killers in civilian clothes came and went on a motorcycle without any interference from the uniformed cops.”
Relatives, neighbors, and other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that armed assailants typically worked in groups of two, four, or a dozen. They would wear civilian clothes, often all black, and have their faces shielded by balaclava-style headgear or other masks, and baseball caps or helmets. They would bang on doors and barge into rooms, but the assailants would not identify themselves or provide warrants. Family members reported hearing beatings and their loved ones begging for their lives. The shooting could happen immediately–behind closed doors or on the street; or the gunmen might take the suspect away, where minutes later shots would ring out and local residents would find the body; or the body would be dumped elsewhere later, sometimes with hands tied or the head wrapped in plastic. Local residents often said they saw uniformed police on the outskirts of the incident, securing the perimeter—but even if not visible before a shooting, special crime scene investigators would arrive within minutes.
Five masked armed men broke into a house in Bulacan province where Oliver Dela Cruz, 43, was playing cards. Said a relative: “[W]e could see him kneeling in a surrendering position. The men grabbed him and slammed him into a concrete wall several times, and then they threw him…outside. We saw the shooting, we were just there. Oliver’s face was bleeding from being hit, and he was begging them for mercy when he was shot.”
After the shooting of Ogie Sumangue, 19, in Manila, uniformed police showed Sumangue’s relatives his body in the house, and a .45 caliber handgun next to his body. Family members said that Sumangue could not afford and did not possess a gun and therefore could not possibly have attempted to shoot at the police. “He cannot even pay the rent,” a relative said. “His sister paid the rent for him.”
Human Rights Watch examined the police reports in nearly all of the cases investigated. The accounts contrasted markedly with those provided by the relatives interviewed, yet they were similar to each other, virtually all claiming to involve “buy-bust” anti-drug operations, differing little besides the names, places, and dates. While the Philippine National Police have publicly sought to distinguish between suspects killed while resisting arrest and killings by “unknown gunmen” or “vigilantes,” Human Rights Watch found no such distinction in the cases investigated. In several cases, the police dismissed allegations of involvement and instead classified such killings as “found bodies” or “deaths under investigation” when only hours before the suspects had been in police custody. Such cases call into question government assertions that the majority of killings were carried out by vigilantes or rival drug gangs.
Six masked armed men burst into a Manila home where a small group, including several teenagers, were watching television. The men arrested and beat drug suspects Aljon Mesa and Jimboy Bolasa, and then took them away on motorcycles. A half hour later, after hearing from a uniformed policeman, relatives rushed to a nearby bridge to find Aljon and Bolasa’s bodies, both with gunshot wounds to the head, their hands tied with cloth. The gunmen were still at the scene, while uniformed police cordoned off the area. The police report, headed “Found Bodies,” claims that a “concerned citizen” alerted the police to the presence of two dead bodies.
A week after Aljon Mesa’s killing, 10 police officers, some in civilian clothes, arrested his brother Danilo Mesa and took him to the local barangay office. That evening masked armed men abducted him from the barangay office; shortly afterwards, his body was found under a bridge a block away. His relatives said that his entire head had been wrapped in packing tape, and his hands had been tied behind his back. He had been shot execution-style through the mouth.
Whether or not the unidentified assailants doing the actual killing were police officers or agents of the police, the similar tactics used in the cases documented by Human Rights Watch showed planning and coordination by the police and in some cases local civilian officials. These killings were not carried out by “rogue” officers or by “vigilantes” operating separately from the authorities. Our research indicates that police involvement in the killings of drug suspects extends far beyond the officially acknowledged cases of police killings in “buy-bust” operations. Furthermore, the government’s failure to arrest—let alone prosecute—a single police officer for their role in any of the “war-on-drugs” killings that Duterte has encouraged sends a message that those involved need not fear being held to account, and that future killings can be carried out with impunity.
Relatives of Edward Sentorias, 34, a jobless father of three killed by the police in Manila, said they had no hope for an investigation of the police: “I saw one of the police go inside with an aluminum briefcase.… [He took] out the gun and some [shabu] sachets, and placed them there [by Sentorias’ body]. I went back to where I was, and was totally shocked. I couldn’t even complain. If we go complain, what is our chance against the authorities?”
President Duterte has frequently characterized his “war on drugs” as targeting “drug lords” and “drug pushers.” However, in all but one of the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, the victims of drug-related killings by the police or unidentified gunmen were poor (the exception was a middle-class victim who appears to have been killed as a result of mistaken identity), and many were suspected drug users, not dealers at all. Almost all of the victims were either unemployed or worked menial jobs, including as rickshaw drivers or porters, and lived in slum neighborhoods or informal settlements.
The alleged extrajudicial killing of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users in the Philippines needs to be viewed in the context of President Duterte’s repeated death threats against those involved with illegal drugs. There are several legal grounds for which Duterte and his chief subordinates could be held criminally liable in the Philippines or by a court abroad.
No evidence thus far shows that Duterte planned or ordered specific extrajudicial killings. But Duterte’s repeated calls for killings as part of his anti-drug campaign could constitute acts instigating law enforcement to commit the crime of murder. His statements encouraging vigilantes among the general population to commit violence against suspected drug users could constitute incitement to violence.
Furthermore, the doctrine of command or superior responsibility imposes criminal liability on officials for the unlawful acts of subordinates, where the superior knew or had reason to know of the unlawful acts, and failed to prevent or punish those acts. The unlawful killings being carried out by police forces ultimately under Duterte’s command have repeatedly been brought to his attention by the media, the United Nations, foreign governments, and domestic and international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch. 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.
Finally, the president, senior officials, and others implicated in unlawful killings could be held liable for crimes against humanity, which are serious offenses committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population. The numerous and seemingly organized deadly attacks on the publicly targeted group of drug suspects could amount to crimes against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court, to which the Philippines is a party.
Duterte’s War on Drugs not only flagrantly violates human rights, it is also likely to have significant negative public health consequences. Human Rights Watch has documented in various countries that harsh drug enforcement can lead to drug users going underground away from critical health services. This can fuel the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C among people who used drugs and may discourage people with drug dependence from seeking effective treatment services. Indeed, UN agencies such as UNAIDS and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime recommend a shift away from law enforcement-based approaches to drugs in favor of a public health approach. Human Rights Watch believes that countries should decriminalize possession of drugs for personal use.
President Duterte has a legal responsibility to publicly direct the Philippine National Police to end their campaign of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and users. The National Bureau of Investigation and Ombudsman’s Office should impartially investigate the killings and seek prosecutions of all those responsible. Congress should hold extensive hearings on the issue and adopt measures to prevent further such killings. Donor countries to the Philippines should end all assistance to the Philippine National Police until the killings cease and meaningful investigations are undertaken and consider redirecting that assistance to community-based harm reduction programs that are appropriate and effective.
To the Philippine Government
- Direct the Philippine National Police to end their campaign of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and users;
The National Bureau of Investigation and Ombudsman’s Office should impartially investigate the killings and seek prosecutions of all those responsible;
Congress should hold extensive hearings on the issue and adopt measures to prevent further such killings.
To International Donors
- End all assistance to the Philippine National Police until the killings cease and meaningful investigations are undertaken and consider redirecting that assistance to community-based harm reduction programs that are appropriate and effective.
To the United Nations Human Rights Council
- Urgently create an independent, international investigation into the killings to determine responsibility and ensure mechanisms for accountability.
From October 2016 to January 2017, Human Rights Watch investigated 24 incidents of killings of alleged drug dealers and users, involving 32 victims, that occurred in Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines, and nearby provinces since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30, 2016. These were a small percentage of the more than 7,080 such killings that the latest statistics from the Philippine National Police indicate have occurred between July 1, 2016 and January 31, 2017.
Because such killings were ongoing at the time of the research, Human Rights Watch took extensive security precautions to ensure the security of witnesses and relatives of the victims. The impoverished urban neighborhoods where most killings have taken place have a high presence of police informants who can be expected to pass on information about human rights investigations into alleged abuses by the police. So rather than interview people in their neighborhoods, Human Rights Watch spoke to relatives and witnesses in locations where they could be interviewed safely and in private. Interviews were conducted in Tagalog, the dominant language in the Manila area, through the use of an interpreter.
For security reasons, the names of witnesses and relatives interviewed by Human Rights Watch are not included in the report, and other identifying information has also been withheld. Human Rights Watch did not provide incentives to persons interviewed, although we did reimburse the travel and telecommunication costs of interviews, and provided food at mealtimes.
In almost all cases, Human Rights Watch was able to obtain the initial police version of events, contained in police records as “spot” or “incident” reports. The information contained in those reports is also included in our report, and contrasted with the information we collected from witnesses and relatives.
Extrajudicial Killings as “Crime Control”
When Rodrigo Duterte was contemplating running for president of the Philippines in 2015, he made clear his intention to eliminate crime by eliminating criminals: “If by chance that God will place me there, watch out because the 1,000 [people reportedly executed while Duterte was mayor of Davao City] will become 100,000. You will see the fish in Manila Bay getting fat. That is where I will dump you.”
Three months after that speech, he renewed his pledge: “If I became president, you better hide. That 1,000 will reach 50,000. I would kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable.”A year later, on May 9, 2016, Duterte, then 71, was elected president by winning 39 percent of the vote in a race against five other candidates. His first six months in office has been a human rights calamity for the Philippines.
For Filipinos who took note of Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for more than two decades, the killing of several thousand suspected drug dealers and users in a matter of months would have come as no surprise. Indeed, his “Duterte Harry” reputation, built on a Davao City body count if not on actual reduction of crime in the city, gained him voters as well as lost them. Duterte’s assertion that his ruthless anti-crime approach resulted in a reduction in Davao City crime rates are belied by Davao City police crime data, close analysis of which indicates a sharp upward trend in crime rates from 1999-2008, when the anti-crime campaign was carried out. Duterte’s assertion, of course, also ignores the very real crime wave unleashed by his own policy—namely, the murder of hundreds of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children.
On numerous occasions as mayor, Duterte claimed personal responsibility for the policy of killing drug suspects. For example, in February 2009, Duterte stated: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”
Duterte is not the only Philippine mayor implicated in extrajudicial executions of alleged criminals. Alfredo Lim, a former police officer and chief of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), was implicated in using similar tactics while mayor of the capital, Manila, from 1992 to 1998. He was never prosecuted for his alleged role in the summary executions of dozens of suspected drug dealers and other alleged criminals. Instead, his reputation as an anti-crime crusader buoyed his election to the Philippine Senate in2004 and his later re-election as Manila’s mayor. The then-mayor of Tagum City, Rey Uy, along with close aides and city police officers, hired, equipped, and paid for an operation that at its height consisted of 14 hit men and accomplices between January 2007 and March 2013.
That death squad, many members of which were on the city government payroll with the Civil Security Unit, a City Hall bureau tasked with traffic management and providing security in markets and schools, is implicated in the killings of at least 298 people.
Duterte the “Death Squad” Mayor
Rodrigo Duterte first ran for mayor of Davao City in 1988 on a campaign to restore law and order in the city, the largest on the main southern island of Mindanao. At that time, Davao City was known as the “murder capital” of the Philippines. Communist insurgents and government security forces gunned down each other—and many civilians—day and night on Davao City’s streets and barrios.
Duterte was elected mayor in part on his reputation as a city prosecutor said to have targeted military and rebel abuses with equal fervor. The son of a former provincial governor, Duterte said his father taught him that elected officials must serve the greater good no matter what it takes, like a father protecting and disciplining his family.
Duterte was Davao City mayor for most of the years between 1988 and 2016. Local activists say death squad killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children in Davao City started sometime in the mid-1990s, during Duterte’s second term. The group that claimed to be responsible for the killings was called Suluguon sa Katawhan or “Servants of the People,” among other names, but soon the media in Davao City began referring to it as the Davao Death Squad.
Duterte’s active promotion of killing drug suspects led to a sharp increase in such killings during his time as mayor: according to one estimate, at least 1,424 such killings took place in Davao between 1998 and 2015. When confronted with the death toll during his Presidential election campaign, Duterte responded: “They said I killed 700? They miscalculated. It was 1,700.”The Philippine National Commission on Human Rights initiated an investigation into the Davao Death Squad in 2009. This prompted the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate police officers for failing to investigate the death squad killings, and in 2012 it found 21 police officers guilty of “simple neglect of duty” and fined each of them the equivalent of one month’s salary. The Court of Appeals overturned the Ombudsman’s verdict that same year. To date, not one person has been convicted for involvement in any of the killings.
Human Rights Watch also investigated the Davao City killings. While our research found no evidence that directly linked Duterte to any killing, we found complicity and at times direct involvement of government officials and members of the police in these killings. Relatives and friends of death squad members provided detailed and consistent information on Davao Death Squad operations, which was corroborated by journalists, community activists, and government officials.
In September 2016, Edgar Matobato testified at a Senate hearing that he had been a hitman for the Davao Death Squad and had killed several people on the specific orders of Duterte and his son Paolo, who is now Davao City’s vice mayor. These include anti-Communist radio broadcaster and fierce Duterte critic Juan “Jun" Pala, who was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in 2003. After winning the 2016 presidential election, Duterte railed against corrupt journalists, who he said deserved to be killed.
Duterte responded to Matobato’s allegations by calling them lies.
The use of “death squads” to target petty criminals spread to other cities in the Philippines. US State Department cables released by WikiLeaks in 2005 noted the apparent rise of municipal government-sanctioned death squads in cities including Cebu City, Toledo, and Carcar on the island of Cebu.
Human Rights Watch’s investigations of summary killings in Tagum City, 50 kilometers north of Davao City, found that Rey Uy, the city’s mayor from 1998 to 2013, created a death squad that mirrored the modus operandi of the Davao Death Squad. By 2005, the Tagum Death Squad had morphed into a guns-for-hire operation whose targets included businessmen, police officers, an indigenous tribe leader, a judge, and former death squad members.
Duterte the “Death Squad” President?
Since taking office on June 30, 2016, Duterte has initiated an anti-drug campaign premised on baseless claims that the Philippines is in the midst of a “drug emergency” and is spiraling toward the status of a “narco state.” He even released a list of public officials with alleged links to illegal drugs.
In his public pronouncements, Duterte has cited different statistics to justify his “war on drugs,” most recently saying that the number of drug users in the Philippines will grow to four million, hence the need “to stop it now.” The Dangerous Drugs Board, in its latest statistics available, puts the number of drug users at 1.3 million. This is actually a significant decline from the 6.7 million that the Dangerous Drugs Board recorded in 2004.
A Reuters investigative report raised concerns about the “dubious data” being used by the Duterte administration to push its anti-drug campaign, quoting officials as saying “data on the total number of drug users, the number of users needing treatment, the types of drugs being consumed and the prevalence of drug-related crime is exaggerated, flawed or non-existent.”Time magazine sought to debunk Duterte’s justifications for the killings by reporting that the Philippines’s crime rate is not as bad as the president depicts it to be.
“In the five years from 2010 to ’15, PNP [Philippine National Police] figures show that total murders across the nation’s top 15 cities averaged 1,202 a year. But many more people have already died in the first seven weeks of Duterte’s drug war,” the report said. The Philippine drug problem, it added, is not as bad as Australia’s, for example.
Since becoming president, Duterte has boasted about killings by the police during anti-drug operations and even ordered the police and public to kill more. The day he took his oath of office, Duterte told a crowd mostly from Manila’s Tondo slums: “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” He has also publicly told police officers that he would pardon them if they killed drug dealers and drug addicts. “Do your duty,” Duterte said on his third day in office.
“And if in the process you kill one thousand persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you.” The next month, he said drug dependents are not humans: “These human rights (advocates) did not count those who were killed before I became President. The children who were raped and mutilated [by drug users]. That’s why I said, ‘[W]hat crime against humanity?’ In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you, are they (drug users) humans? What is your definition of a human being? Tell me.”
In September, Duterte bizarrely compared himself to Adolf Hitler: "Hitler massacred 3 million Jews [sic]. Now there is 3 million, what is it, 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines) there are. I'd be happy to slaughter them,” he said. The next month he referred to children killed in his drug war as “collateral damage.”
Duterte and his congressional allies have also harassed and intimidated domestic critics of his anti-drug campaign, most notably Senator Leila de Lima, the chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights. De Lima had launched an investigation in August 2016 into the “war on drugs” killings, and earlier, when she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights, investigated the Davao Death Squad.
Duterte accused de Lima of receiving drug money while secretary of justice from alleged drug lords imprisoned at the national penitentiary. His allies in the House of Representatives, which his party controls, convened a congressional hearing where felons and accused drug lords testified against de Lima in exchange for immunity.
The Senate committee stripped De Lima of the chairmanship. The committee later called on two witnesses—de Lima’s former driver and lover, and a self-confessed drug dealer—who claimed they had given money to de Lima. De Lima, Duterte threatened, “will rot in jail.”
Duterte also threatened human rights activists, saying he would blame them if the drug situation in the Philippines worsened. In his first State of the Nation speech to Congress in July, Duterte painted advocates of human rights as the country’s enemy, saying “human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country."
On November 28, Duterte threatened to include human rights activists who opposed his anti-drug campaign on the list of those to be targeted:
The human rights [activists] said I ordered the killings. I told them, OK, let’s stop. We’ll let [drug users] multiply, so when it’s harvest time, more people will die. … I will include you [human rights activists] because you are the reason why their numbers [of drug users] swell.
In December, Duterte threatened to make lawyers of drug suspects targets in his drug war. “That’s their style. They were able to post bail because they have lawyers. They are good, high-profile lawyers. Then [their clients] will play again,” Duterte said in a speech, adding: “Even their lawyers, I will include them.”
Duterte has also attacked and threatened foreign critics of his abusive war on drugs. In August, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, issued a statement reminding the Duterte administration of its human rights obligations. Duterte responded by calling the UN a “stupid body” and threatened to pull the Philippines out of the world body. He then invited Callamard to visit the Philippines to investigate the killings on the condition that he would engage her in a public debate. The Philippine foreign minister announced on December 14 that the government had canceled the planned official visit on the basis that Callamard “will not comply with the conditions of our president” for such a visit. One of those conditions, which Callamard described as “not consistent with the code of conduct for special rapporteurs,” included requiring her to participate in a “public debate” with Duterte. Callamard explained that the condition could compromise the confidentiality of victim testimonies.
In September, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the drug war killings, Duterte said: “Even Ban Ki-moon weighed in. He also gave his statement before, several weeks ago, about the human rights violation. I said, you’re another fool.” He added: “I will continue the campaign against the criminals. I do not have any pity for them. I don’t give a shit. I am the president of the Philippines, not the republic of the international community.” Later that month, he told the United States to “stop the hypocrisy” after US legislators expressed concern over the killings. “They’re only good at criticizing,” he said.
In October, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, issued a statement that the court was watching the situation in the Philippines and that “any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the court.” Duterte responded by suggesting the Philippines would withdraw from the ICC. “The International Criminal Court is useless. They [Russia] withdrew its membership. I might follow," he said. “If China and Russia will decide to create a new order, I will be the first to join.”
The Philippine National Police announced a temporary suspension of police anti-drug operations on January 30 following revelations the previous week of the alleged brutal killing of a South Korean businessman by anti-drug police. The following day, Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to fill the gap created by the suspended police operations by taking a frontline role in the anti-drug campaign. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon confirmed that the government had approved the assignment of military units to “arrest drug personalities” in cooperation with the official anti-narcotics agency. Using military personnel for civilian policing anywhere heightens the risk of unnecessary or excessive force and inappropriate military tactics. But there is also a deeply rooted culture of impunity for military abuses in the Philippines. Data from the Department of National Defense indicate only one soldier has been convicted of an extrajudicial killing since 2001. The addition of AFP units in anti-drug operations—along with Duterte’s vow to continue his “anti-drugs” campaign until his presidential term ends in 2022–suggests that killings of suspected drug dealers and drug users will likely continue indefinitely.
II. Police Responsibility for Extrajudicial Killings and “Vigilante Killings”
Police killings of drug suspects are not a new phenomenon in the Philippines, but have skyrocketed under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. Between January 1, 2016 and June 15, 2016 police killed a total of 68 suspects in “anti-drug” operations. Yet, as this report goes to publication Philippine National Police data indicates that since July 1, 2016 police have killed 2,555 “suspected drug personalities,” while the police classify 3,603 killings in the same time period as “deaths under investigation.” Police categorize an additional 922 killings as “cases where investigation has concluded,” but have not provided details of the results of those investigations.
Following President Duterte’s inauguration, the Philippines National Police launched a nationwide anti-drug operation named “PNP Oplan—Operation Double Barrel Project Tokhang.” Working at the national, regional, and local level, “Operation Double Barrel Project Tokhang” aimed to create “watch lists” of known drug users and drug pushers, who would then be visited by local police and/or municipal authorities and urged to “surrender.” The term “double barrel” meant to indicate that police operations would target both “drug pushers and users of illegal drugs alike.”Tok-hang translates as “knock and plead,” referring to the house visits done by police or municipal authorities to urge individuals to surrender. However, the “Operation Double Barrel Project Tokhang” also had a more violent element, as documented in this report: the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in faked “buy-bust” encounters with the police, and so-called vigilante killings by “unknown” gunmen.
The following 24 incidents resulting in 32 deaths are not a scientific sampling of those killings. However, they share similarities with the vast majority of the cases reported in the media. The killings have largely occurred in impoverished urban areas, many in the National Capital Region of Metro Manila but in other cities as well. Those killed have been typically been people struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families—work is irregular if they have work at all. In many of the cases, family members acknowledged that their relative was a drug user—typically of shabu, a methamphetamine—or a dealer, or used to be one. But none of the cases investigated fit the category of big-time drug lords—they were people at the bottom of the drug chain.
In the days before a killing, a targeted individual might receive a visit from an official from the local barangay (or neighborhood), informing them that they are on a drug “watch list” drawn up by barangay officials and the police, putting them at grave risk. This might cause the individual to lay low, avoid all outside activities or turn themselves in to the police—all to no avail. Or there might be no warning at all.
As told to Human Rights Watch by relatives, neighbors, and other witnesses, the assailants typically worked in groups of two, four, or a dozen. They would wear civilian clothes, often all black, and shielded their faces with balaclava-style headgear or other masks, and baseball caps or helmets. They would carry handguns. They would frequently travel by motorcycle—two to a bike. Often there would be a van, invariably white, and sometimes containing markings signifying a police vehicle. There typically would be banging on doors and barging into rooms, but the assailants would not identify themselves nor provide warrants. Family members often reported hearing beatings and their loved one begging for their lives. The shootings could happen immediately, behind closed doors or on the street, or the gunmen might take the suspect away, where minutes later shots would ring out and local residents would find the body, often with hands tied or the head wrapped in plastic.
Local residents often said they saw uniformed police in the vicinity before the incident, securing the perimeter—but even if not visible before a shooting, special crime scene investigators would arrive within minutes. A previously unknown .38 caliber handgun and a packet of shabu almost always would be found next to the body. And instead of fleeing from the police, the gunmen would mingle with them. Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single arrest made in connection with any of the killings we documented.
Human Rights Watch examined police reports in virtually all of the cases we investigated. The accounts differed markedly from those provided by the relatives we interviewed, yet they were very similar to each other. The suspect was invariably described as a dealer who attempted to sell to undercover officers conducting a “buy-bust” operation. Specialized local anti-drug units called Station Anti-Illegal Drug Special Operations Task Units (SAID-SOTU) were usually involved. According to the reports, the suspect, after being put under arrest and sometimes handcuffed, allegedly pulled out a weapon and sought to shoot the police. In every case, however, the suspect was killed and none of the arresting officers were harmed, with the sole exception of one case in which an officer is alleged to have been shot in the leg. In most cases, the police “found” shabu on or near the victim’s corpse.
While the Philippine National Police have publicly sought to distinguish between suspects killed while resisting police arrest and killings by “unknown gunmen” or “vigilantes,” Human Rights Watch found no such distinction in the cases investigated. In several cases we investigated, the police dismissed allegations of involvement and instead classified such killings as “found bodies” or “deaths under investigation” when only hours before the suspects had been in police custody. Such cases call into question government assertions that the majority of killings have been committed by vigilantes "fed up with the current justice system" or rival drug gangs.
Whether or not the unidentified assailants doing the actual killing were police officers or merely agents of the police, the similar modus operandi in these operations shows planning and coordination by the police, and in some cases, local civilian officials. These were not killings by individual officers or by “vigilantes” operating separately from the authorities. The cases investigated in this report suggest that police involvement in the killings of drug suspects extends far beyond the officially acknowledged cases of police killings in “buy-bust” operations. Furthermore, the government’s failure to arrest—let alone prosecute—a single police officer for their role in any of the “war-on-drugs” killings that Duterte has encouraged and instigated sends a message that those involved need not fear being held to account, and that future killings can be carried out with impunity.
Edwin Ronda, June 8
Barangay Caingin, Purok One, Santa Rosa, Laguna province
While Duterte was inaugurated on June 30, 2016, his election victory a month earlier, on May 30, led to an immediate uptick in police killings of drug suspects, many of them under circumstances that indicated extrajudicial killings.
Edwin Ronda, 30, was a construction worker who lived with his parents in Santa Rosa City about 40 kilometers south of Manila. When his father suspected him of being involved in drug dealing in 2015, he surrendered his son to police custody. Ronda’s subsequent arrest and prosecution resulted in a one-year prison term that ended in February 2016. Ronda’s family believed that he had steered away from drugs following his release as he was aware that his staunchly anti-drugs family would again turn him over to the police if he again dealt drugs.
A relative told Human Rights Watch that Ronda went out drinking with a group of friends on the evening of June 7 in nearby town of Biñan. At about 5 a.m. on June 8, Ronda took a moto-taxi home with a friend.On their way, while in the area of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines at Santa Rosa, they passed a white van with at least three plainclothes armed men inside, who stopped the moto taxi, and identified themselves as policemen.Ronda’s friend ran away, but the armed men detained Ronda and told the driver of the moto taxi to leave.
Ronda’s family later learned from his friend that the armed men took Ronda into the van and drove off, but apparently remained in the vicinity of the university. Ronda’s relative told Human Rights Watch that people in the area heard gunshots. When they went to investigate, they found Ronda’s body near the university’s basketball court just 100 meters from where he had been detained by the police. He had a gunshot wound to the temple and what looked like ligature marks near his neck. A .38 caliber handgun and packets of drugs were found near his body. The policemen and the white van were not at the scene when the body was discovered, but Scene of Crimes Operatives (SOCO) investigative officers arrived soon after.
The police report of the incident, signed by the chief of police of the Santa Rosa City Police Station in Laguna, offered a version of events inconsistent with the witness account. The report states that police killed Ronda during a “buy-bust” operation, alleging that he was shot after he grew suspicious and drew a gun on undercover police officers. The report makes no mention of his detention by the officers in the van:
Investigation conducted disclosed that Intel operatives of this station conducted an anti-illegal drugs operation (buy-bust) operation led by [intelligence officers] against the suspect after police acted as a poseur buyer was to purchase one (1) piece of small heat transparent plastic sachet containing [shabu]. The suspect who seeing the poseur buyer is a police officer armed with a [.38 caliber handgun] suddenly opened fired to the intel operatives forcing them to returned fire wherein the former was hit during exchange of fire and sustained gunshot wound on his body.
The police further claimed that the wounded Ronda was taken to the hospital by a police “rescue team” where he was declared dead, and that a .38 caliber handgun with two fired cartridges was found at the scene by SOCO police investigators.
The family blames the killing on President Duterte’s repeated calls on police to target drug dealers during his election campaign. According to a relative:
Edwin was killed after Duterte was elected, but before he became president. Edwin’s killing was a gift to the President, you see the killing campaign started even before he took [office]. It was like a gift from the police officers to the president [elect].
Oliver Dela Cruz, July 1
Barangay Pala-Pala, San Ildefonso, Bulacan province
Oliver Dela Cruz, 43, was a rice and vegetable farmer in rural Bulacan province north of Manila. However, after becoming ill from lung disease, he no longer could do the vigorous labor required for farming. According to his family, in 2015 he turned to dealing shabu to try and make enough money to feed his six children, and for the medical treatment for both his own illness and a son’s hepatitis. When the killings of drug dealers began, his family begged him to stop dealing, but Dela Cruz told them he had no other way to support his family.
On the evening of June 30, Dela Cruz went to play cards at his neighbor’s house. Family members told Human Rights Watch that at about 1 a.m. on July 1, a group of five masked armed men in civilian clothes broke down the door of the neighbor’s house and rushed inside. Awakened by screaming, the Dela Cruz family rushed outside. A relative said:
The other two people inside the neighbor’s house were grabbed by the armed men, and told to go outside. Oliver remained inside, we could see him kneeling in a surrendering position. The men grabbed him and slammed him into a concrete wall several times, and then they threw him out of the door, to the outside. We saw the shooting, we were just there. Oliver’s face was bleeding from being hit, and he was begging them for mercy when he was shot, he was just lying on the ground at that time. He did not have a gun or try to grab a gun—he was already badly beaten and couldn’t have fought back even if he had wanted to.
Family members who witnessed the incident said that uniformed police officers and SOCO officers were already waiting just outside the neighborhood while the masked men carried out the killing:
The van of the local police and the van of the SOCO investigators were already parked on the main road outside the neighborhood even before the killing happened. The five killers came on foot from the main road, they [had] arrived there on motorcycles.… The killers stayed even when the SOCO came. Two of the ones wearing masks spoke to the uniformed police and the SOCO, so they were all together.
Media accounts of the incident said the killing resulted from a police drug sting. However, a police report of the incident does not mention any police involvement in the killing, stating only that “an armed encounter transpired in Barangay Pala-Pala…that resulted in the death of one (1) Oliver Dela Cruz,” suggesting a killing by “vigilantes.”
Ogie Sumangue, July 3
Barangay 621, Zone 26, Binondo, Manila
Ogie Sumangue, 19, lived with his wife in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, and was unemployed and dependent on the financial support of his sister. According to the police, Sumangue was involved in drug dealing.
According to family members who witnessed the incident, at about 7:30 p.m. on July 3 a group of about 10 to 15 men in plainclothes arrived at his home on motorcycles and in a white van. Several ordered his pregnant wife to leave the house, and stayed inside with Sumangue. The wife suddenly heard several gunshots from inside the room. Soon thereafter, the men turned off the lights inside the house and then left, closing the door. They then departed. Uniformed police officers together with journalists arrived at the scene soon thereafter.
The police, in their report on the operation, claim that officers from Station Anti-Illegal Drugs-Special Operation Task Unit (SAID-SOTU) killed Sumangue inside his home during a “buy-bust” operation:
Sensing the presence of the [officers], the suspect fired at their direction and hit one of the [officers] who was fortunately wearing a bullet [proof] vest. An exchange of gunfire ensued, killing the suspect, in whose possession police found six sachets containing drugs, live bullets and a gun.
Uniformed police showed Sumangue’s relatives his body in the house immediately after the shooting, and what appeared to be a .45 caliber handgun next to his body. Family members told Human Rights Watch that Sumangue did not possess a gun and therefore could not possibly have attempted to shoot at the police. They believe the police planted the gun on Sumangue’s body in an attempt to justify his killing.
“He cannot even pay the rent, his sister paid the rent for him,” a relative told Human Rights Watch, questioning where he would have obtained the money to get a gun.
Renato Badando, July 7
Barangay 621, Santa Maria, Manila
In 2008, police arrested Renato Badando, 41, on suspicion of involvement in a robbery, for which he subsequently spent nearly eight years in prison. After his release around March 2016, he found occasional work operating a trolley along the railroad tracks where he lived in a shack with his wife. He was an occasional shabu user “when there was money to buy it,” but not a dealer, according to relatives.
On the night of July 7, a large police anti-drug operation took place in Badando’s neighborhood, waking up his wife. Badando told her not to worry, as he had not been listed on the neighborhood’s watch list, and urged her to go back to bed. An hour later, a policeman knocked on their shack and identified himself, and asked about the whereabouts of some of their neighbors.
Approximately 30 minutes after the first police visit, a group of seven armed and masked men in civilian dress kicked open the door of Badando’s shack. They ordered Badando to come with them “for checking,” allowing Badando, who had been sleeping, to put on a shirt and take his wallet with identification.
Soon thereafter, his relatives heard a gunshot, followed by several more, and rushed to a nearby riverside dock. By the time they arrived at the scene just minutes later, the media and uniformed police had already arrived, and the plainclothes men who had arrested him—evidently police officers—were standing over Badando’s body.
Police officials told the relatives that they found a .45 caliber handgun, packets of shabu, and money on Badando. However, a relative interviewed by Human Rights Watch disputes this claim, stressing that Badando had been taken by the police from his own home:
“When he was taken from the house, he had been half-naked sleeping, and the police allowed him to put on a shirt and take his wallet with ID. We don’t own a gun, and we don’t have so much shabu, and we don’t have money. All of that was planted [by the police].”
Edward Sentorias, July 8
Don Bosco, Tondo, Manila
Edward Sentorias, 34, a father of three boys, was jobless after being injured in a welding accident. According to his relatives, both he and his live-in partner were shabu users, and lived in the house that belonged to his partner’s parents, who were in prison for drug dealing. The relatives believe the police incorrectly assumed that Sentorias and his partner had taken over the drug dealing business of her parents. When the government’s Operation Double Barrel began, Sentorias rejected his relatives’ pleading to surrender to the local officials, telling them that the local officials were shabu addicts long before he was.
On the morning of July 8, Sentorias and his partner were having breakfast when a group of five uniformed police officers knocked on their door. When his partner opened the door, the policemen grabbed her and her 2-year-old son and pulled them outside, saying they had come to talk to Sentorias. The police officers then rushed into the home and almost immediately, gunshots rang out. The police officers then blocked Sentorias’ partner from re-entering their home.
According to the police report, the police recovered drugs from Sentorias’ partner when she was outside, and then entered the house to arrest Sentorias who confronted them with a gun and was gunned down by them:
[Sentorias] sense[d] the presence of herein policemen pulled his [.38 caliber] revolver and pointed to [a police officer]. Sensing that his life is in danger, [the officer] fired his service firearm and shots the former hitting EDWARD SENTORIAS Y BULAWAN on the different parts of the body and fell down on the pavement and died on the spot.
Relatives of Sentorias dispute the police account that he was armed, and said that they witnessed the police placing the incriminating evidence. A relative of the victim who reached the scene of the shooting almost immediately afterwards told Human Rights Watch:
We were waiting for the SOCO [police investigators] to arrive. I saw one of the police go inside with an aluminum briefcase. Out of curiosity I went to look through the window. I saw the officer open the briefcase and he took out the gun and some sachets, and placed them there. I went back to where I was, and was totally shocked. I couldn’t even complain. If we go complain, what is our chance against the authorities? The government declared the evidence was found inside his house, so it is their word against ours. I have no reason to lie about this. That is when I realized not everyone being killed is guilty of fighting back. If they don’t find evidence inside the house, they need to fabricate it, so they don’t get busted.
Henry Francisco, July 20
Barangay Bagbaguin, Bagong Nayon, Valenzuela, Metro Manila