Philippines Claims 'Wrongful Portrayal' of Drug-Related Killings at UN Review

Philippines Claims 'Wrongful Portrayal' of Drug-Related Killings at UN Review
Photo Credit: AP / 達志影像

What you need to know

United Nations Human Rights Council members have raised concerns over alleged torture, extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses in the Philippines despite its delegation's claims that there are “no state-sponsored killings.”

The Philippines has defended its President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called "War On Drugs” at the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR), claiming that the brutal crackdown on drug users and dealers is necessary to make Philippines citizens feel “safe.”

More than 7,000 people have been killed in Duterte’s “war on drugs” from both legitimate police operations and extrajudicial killings since he took office in June 2016.

However, in his address to the U.N. Human Rights Council on May 8, Philippines Senator Alan Peter Cayetano claimed that there was no “sudden wave” of killings, and there were no extrajudicial killings at all. He made the same claim in a statement on May 5 at a forum in Geneva.

Cayetano said that there were around 11,000 to 16,000 killings every year under the previous administration, but that the definition of extrajudicial killings had changed under Duterte. The different definition has led to the “wrongful portrayal” of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and crime in the international media, Cayetano claims.

Under the Operational Guidelines issued by former President Benigno S. Aquino III, extrajudicial or extra-legal killings are defined as: “wherein the victim was a member of, or affiliated with an organization, to include political, environmental, agrarian, labor or similar causes; an advocate of above named causes; a media practitioner, or a person(s) apparently mistaken or identified to be so.”

“But now extrajudicial killings under President Duterte are considered to be any death that does not happen from natural causes or court ordered deaths,” said Cayetano.

The Philippines senator cites a poll from Pulse Asia showing 81 percent of Filipinos feel safer because of the campaign against illegal drugs.

“Security and human rights are not incompatible,” Cayetano said. The Philippines’ government campaign against drugs is needed to protect the people and prevent the country from turning into a “narco state,” the senator said.

Meanwhile, Senator Leila De Lima, one of Duterte’s strongest critics - she was arrested in February on drug-related charges issued a statement from prison saying the Philippines delegation was “fooling itself” in thinking it could “pull off a magic trick and hide the Duterte regime’s record of EJKs and human rights abuses from the rest of the world.”

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine called Duterte’s war on drugs “nothing less than a murderous war on the poor,” and said the UPR was critical because of the “sheer magnitude of the human rights calamity since President Duterte took office last year.”

Duterte has repeatedly called for more killings as part of his drug crackdown, praising the killings as a “success” in his drug war. The Commission on Human Rights has found “secret cells” in Manila’s police stations, where detainees were allegedly tortured and held without notifying family members or lawyers.

A bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine was introduced in December 2016. Duterte has openly backed the new bill, saying it would help ensure that young Filipinos would be responsible for their actions.

Editor: Edward White