Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government is “firmly committed” to upholding human rights and condemns vigilante and extrajudicial killings.
“The president has ordered the appropriate law enforcement institutions to take decisive legal steps to ensure accountability. We will arrest, investigate, prosecute and punish the scalawags in uniform while also pursuing reform in these institutions so they can more effectively conduct this noble crusade,” he said.
Abella also denied talk that Duterte does not tolerate views critical of his policies including his war on illegal drugs.
“The fact that the President himself and his administration are not spared from criticisms, even of the harshest kind, demonstrates that democracy and free speech are alive and vibrant as ever here in the country,” Abella said.
“The Filipino people are free to express their views and grievances against the government, its policies and its officials, both in private exchanges and in public demonstrations,” he added.
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Abella said the government has launched programs “to encourage and facilitate free flow of communications and views between the public and the government.”
The US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 said extrajudicial killings has “increased sharply” in the Philippines, with policemen and vigilantes killing more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users.
The report also enumerated what it described as significant human rights problems in the Philippines like killings by vigilantes, security forces and rebels, cases of “apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process,” “weak and overburdened” criminal justice system, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.
“Concerns about police impunity increased significantly as few administrative or criminal charges were filed against PNP officers following the sharp increase in police killings,” the US State Department said in the report, referring to the Philippine National Police.
The US State Department also claimed that Duterte’s public attacks against his critics had a “chilling effect” on free speech and expression.
Abella said the US State Department report that stated that there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances indicates that the administration respects freedom of expression.
“We advise the public to be vigilant in defending their right to free speech and express grievances against government. Cases of intimidation and threats of arrest or hostile retaliation from any official of government or enforcer of the law must be immediately reported to the authorities,” he added.
In another document, the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), the State Department said the US recognizes the Philippines’ commitment to fighting drugs, but it is concerned that the government’s approach raises significant concerns relating to human rights and due process.
It added that the campaign does not address the public health aspect of substance use disorder.
Historically, Philippine authorities have eagerly sought to cooperate with international partners on drug control and law enforcement issues, particularly with the US, People’s Republic of China, South Korea and Australia.
“However, under the new administration, President Duterte’s rhetoric has led to changes in law enforcement and drug control collaboration with the US. In addition, broader uncertainty exists over whether other traditional levels of cooperation with the US will continue,” the report said.
“The US government remains concerned about several aspects of the Philippine government’s anti-drug campaign,” the report also said.
The Philippines, according to the INCSR, remains a destination for diverted chemicals used to produce methamphetamine due to weak chemical controls and inadequate port security.
As of September, at least 709 investigations were opened into deaths resulting from PNP operations. Approximately 800 cases had been filed as of Dec. 26, the report said.
It also noted the PNP Internal Affairs Service report that manpower and resource limitations hampered the required investigations into deaths resulting from police operations while asserting that the deaths resulted from legitimate and lawful operations.
The 2016 report said the government “investigated a limited number” of human rights abuses, including those of its own forces, paramilitaries, insurgents and terrorist groups “but concerns about police impunity increased significantly as few administrative or criminal charges were filed against PNP officers following the sharp increase in police killings.”
Duterte campaigned on a platform against crime, specifically the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics, which included numerous public statements suggesting that killing suspected drug traffickers and users was necessary to meet his goal of wiping out drug-related crimes within three to six months of assuming office.
On at least two occasions, Duterte released a list of suspected drug criminals, including government, police and military officials and some members of the judiciary.
“The government has not revealed the source of this information and the accuracy and legitimacy of the lists has been questioned. Some individuals named on the lists were subsequently killed in either police operations or suspected vigilante killings,” the report said.
It cited the Nov. 5 killing of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa in his prison cell by PNP officers executing a search warrant, which drew condemnation from the Commission on Human Rights and legislators.
“A one-day Senate inquiry into the operation determined there was strong evidence that this was a premeditated killing of a suspect with links to the illegal drug trade by police officers in the line of duty,” the report said.
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