Addressing the United Nations over the weekend, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the war on drugs in the Philippines had been misunderstood, as he insisted that the Duterte administration did not condone extrajudicial killings. Many of the fatalities in the bloody campaign were killed in legitimate law enforcement operations, Yasay told the UN.
A good way to prove this is to conduct a credible investigation of the deaths, whether attributed to the Philippine National Police or to vigilantes. The PNP, however, is already stretched thin. Sustaining this war on drugs and criminality in general should be complemented by a boost in the capability of the state to conduct such probes.
As of mid-September, according to the Commission on Human Rights, 2,035 deaths believed linked to the drug war were being investigated by the PNP. Over 1,100 other drug deaths were attributed to police operations, the CHR declared in a statement.
Every weapon-inflicted death, including suspected suicide, must be investigated by the police. But this process, under present circumstances, is just as slow and inefficient as the administration of justice. If the government wants to allay public concern over abuses in the use of state power to fight the drug menace, more resources must be given to those involved in ferreting out the truth, including the PNP Internal Affairs team and forensics units.
Public concerns will not go away simply because administration officials say the drug killings are legitimate. The PNP did not change its members with the change in national leadership. And the PNP has always had problems with rogue elements who plant evidence and engage in “salvaging” or summary execution.
There are indications that the administration has not exaggerated the drug menace. This can be reinforced by speeding up the probe of at least the most controversial killings, and punishing any PNP member found to have abused his authority. The war on drugs will enjoy greater support if people feel reassured that safeguards are in place against the abuse of state power and overkill.
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