Philippine police use hospitals to hide drug war killings — Plus Philippine National Police Chief Response

By Reuters

Since late 2016, police have delivered hundreds of drug suspects to Manila hospitals. A Reuters investigation has revealed almost all were dead on arrival. Witnesses and family members say they were executed and their bodies removed from the scene in a police cover up.

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Filed June 29, 2017, noon GMT

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MANILA – The residents of Old Balara hid in their homes when gunfire erupted in their Manila district last September. They didn’t see the police operation that killed seven drug suspects that night.

But they witnessed the gory aftermath and it haunts them still.

That night, Herlina Alim said she watched police haul away the men’s bodies, leaving trails of blood. “They were dragged down the alley like pigs,” she said. Her neighbor Lenlen Magano said she saw three bodies, face down and motionless, piled at the end of the alley while police stood calmly by.

It was at least an hour, according to residents, before the victims were thrown into a truck and taken to hospital in what a police report said was a bid to save their lives. Old Balara’s chief, the elected head of the district, told Reuters he was perplexed. They were already dead, Allan Franza said, so why take them to hospital?

An analysis of crime data from two of Metro Manila’s five police districts and interviews with doctors, law enforcement officials and victims’ families point to one answer: Police were sending corpses to hospitals to destroy evidence at crime scenes and hide the fact that they were executing drug suspects.

Philippine police rack up an almost perfect deadly record in drug war

Thousands of people have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30 last year and declared war on what he called “the drug menace.” Among them were the seven victims from Old Balara who were declared dead on arrival at hospital.

A Reuters analysis of police reports covering the first eight months of the drug war reveals hundreds of cases like those in Old Balara. In Quezon City Police District and neighboring Manila Police District, 301 victims were taken to hospital after police drug operations. Only two survived. The rest were dead on arrival.

The data also shows a sharp increase in the number of drug suspects declared dead on arrival in these two districts each month. There were 10 cases at the start of the drug war in July 2016, representing 13 percent of police drug shooting deaths. By January 2017, the tally had risen to 51 cases or 85 percent. The totals grew along with international and domestic condemnation of Duterte’s campaign.

This increase was no coincidence, said a police commander in Manila, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. In late 2016, he said, police began sending victims to hospitals to avoid crime scene investigations and media attention that might show they were executing drug suspects. A Reuters investigation last year found that when police opened fire in drug operations, they killed 97 percent of people they shot.

The Manila commander said police depended on emergency room doctors being too focused on the patients to care about why they were shot. The doctors “aren’t asking any questions. They only record it: DOA,” he said.

But five doctors told Reuters they were troubled by the rising number of police-related DOAs. Four said many drug suspects brought to hospital had been shot in the head and heart, sometimes at close range – precise and unsurvivable wounds that undermined police claims that suspects were injured during chaotic exchanges of gunfire.

Oscar Albayalde, Metro Manila’s police chief, said he had never heard of officers taking dead suspects to hospital to cover up crime scenes. “We will have that investigated,” he told Reuters. If that investigation showed police were “intentionally moving these dead bodies and bringing them to the hospitals just to alter the evidence, then I think we have to make them explain.”

Duterte’s office declined to expand on Albayalde’s response to Reuters’ questions.

TROUBLED: Allan Franza, chief of Manila’s Old Balara district, where police fatally shot seven drug suspects last September. He said he felt uneasy when asked to take the corpses to hospital. REUTERS/Clare Baldwin

According to police reports about the incidents, suspects shot during operations were “immediately rushed” to hospital. “The most important (thing) is the life of the person,” said Randy Llanderal, a precinct commander in Quezon City. The police reports reviewed by Reuters showed Llanderal had led or joined operations in which 13 drug suspects ended up dead on arrival.

Llanderal said all suspects were shot in self-defense during legitimate operations.

The Manila police commander, a retired senior officer and some doctors believe there is a cover up. Hospitalizing drug suspects who have been shot allows police to project a more caring image, said the Manila commander. The retired officer agreed. “It is basically a ploy to make the public believe that the police are mindful of the safety and survival of suspects,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Manila commander said his officers were instructed to shoot at “sensitive areas.” Suspects who survived were shot again to finish them off or smothered with their own clothing, he said.

A Reuters examination of the Old Balara incident and similar operations also suggests that the purpose of hospital runs was to destroy evidence rather than save lives. Police manhandled gunshot victims and showed no urgency in getting them medical treatment, said three sets of family members and other witnesses.

Interactive graphic. Click here

“You obliterate the crime scene – the evidence.”

Rizaldy Rivera, an agent at the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation

Removing bodies makes it harder to work out what really happened. “You obliterate the crime scene – the evidence,” said Rizaldy Rivera, an agent at the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation who has investigated allegations of police brutality. Police forensic investigators at the scene, said Rivera, must carry out their work on what is effectively a “tampered crime scene.”

Scene of Crime Operatives, or SOCO units as police forensic teams are called, process crime scenes and conduct autopsies. Aurelio Trampe, the police general who oversees SOCO, said police officers haven’t been removing bodies to alter crime scenes. He said they have the discretion to disregard crime-scene investigative procedures “just as long as they could save lives.”

SOCO can still collect evidence from bodies once they reach the hospital, but doesn’t always do so. Instead, said SOCO forensic chief Reynaldo Calaoa, that task falls to a police investigator assigned to the case. That investigator often hails from the same station as the colleagues who killed the suspect.

SHOOTING: The house in Manila’s Old Balara district where police fatally shot seven drug suspects last September. Pictured in April, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew R.C. Marshall

“All of them were cold to the touch.”

Jerome Paez, a doctor at East Avenue Medical Center

Such practices can leave the system open to abuse, said Raquel Del Rosario Fortun, an independent forensic scientist and chair of the University of the Philippines Manila pathology department.

“They do the shooting, they do the killing – and they investigate themselves,” she said. “Impunity, that’s what’s happening.”

Old Balara is part of Quezon City, the largest of the 17 cities and municipalities that make up Metro Manila, and the most populous city in the Philippines.

Old Balara district chief Franza said police insisted his staff of volunteer security guards bring drug-war casualties from operations to the hospital – even when it was clear they were dead. Because he has assisted the police by transporting casualties, the victims’ families have accused him and his staff of complicity in the killings, he said.

In March, Franza decided he had had enough. Keep responding to police calls, he told his staff, but don’t take a body to hospital without the go-ahead from SOCO crime scene investigators. “I decided not to take action which I think is not proper,” said Franza.

The seven victims from Old Balara arrived at East Avenue Medical Center stacked in a flatbed truck and another vehicle, said Jerome Paez, an attending physician at the emergency room that night. Most had been shot in the head and many also had multiple gunshots in their chests, he said. None were breathing or had a pulse.

EMERGENCY ROOM: A drug suspect shot by police arrives at a public hospital in central Manila in June. He was declared dead on arrival. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

“All of them were cold to the touch,” said Paez, who has dealt with 21 drug suspects pronounced dead on arrival.

The victims had been refused admission earlier at Quezon City General Hospital’s emergency room, a 15-minute drive away, because they were already dead, said district chief Franza. The hospital told Reuters it had no record of receiving patients from Old Balara that night.

The Old Balara bodies were already in the morgue of East Avenue Medical Center by the time the mother of victim Elmer Gayoso arrived. She asked Reuters to withhold her name, saying she feared retribution from the police.

Gayoso had been shot through the head and the heart, she said, and the headshot had destroyed his face. She said her husband identified him by scouring his corpse for familiar childhood scars. The wounds were so grave that she didn’t believe that the police took Gayoso to the hospital to save his life.

“That was their pretense,” she said, weeping.

The killings also troubled Paez, the ER doctor. “We documented everything, just in case in the future it is needed for investigation,” he said.

Even if doctors at East Avenue Medical Center suspect a new arrival is dead, hospital protocol requires them to try to resuscitate the patient, said Paez. This is costly and wastes time at a big public hospital teeming with patients. In a recent visit by Reuters, old people wearing oxygen masks lay unmoving on gurneys. New patients arrived every few minutes.

Asked about the number of drug suspects arriving dead at hospital, the acting director of the East Avenue Medical Center, Victoria Abesamis, said: “I cannot categorically say that the police are bringing these dead bodies because they want to cover up. I think I will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

TRAINED SHOOTER

Lawrence Bello and three other doctors at East Avenue Medical Center interviewed by Reuters also expressed unease about handling dead-on-arrival cases from police operations.

Bello said the police would sometimes deliver bodies that were already displaying rigor mortis, which sets in several hours after death. East Avenue would get two or three such bodies per month, he said.

Bello has dealt with 20 cases where suspects were dead on arrival following a police operation, according to Quezon City Police District data. One of them, Bello said, had a single gunshot wound. The bullet had entered below the chin and exited through the top of the head. Bello said he found the injury “quite questionable.”

Such an injury is usually associated with victims of suicide or execution, said Homer Venters of Physicians for Human Rights, a group based in New York that investigates mass atrocities. “It is very hard for that to happen when a person isn’t fully compliant,” he said. Venters didn’t examine the body that Bello referred to.

Patel Mayuga, another ER doctor at East Avenue Medical Center, has pronounced 10 victims of police shootings dead on arrival, according to Quezon City Police District data. Suspects who are dead on arrival usually have “clean shots” in the forehead or chest, suggesting the killings were intentional, said Mayuga. “If they are shot in the chest or head, there was time for the attacker to prepare,” he said.

Many other drug suspects brought to hospitals in Quezon City by police were also shot in the head and heart, often from less than a meter away, four doctors told Reuters.

One January evening, police delivered five bodies in a small jeepney bus to the state-run Novaliches District Hospital in Quezon City. The floor of the jeepney bus was puddled with the victims’ blood and excrement, recalled Lawrence Laguno, the ER doctor on duty. According to police, the victims had all pulled guns and opened fire on undercover officers during an anti-drug operation. They missed, and the police returned fire.

IMPUNITY: Forensic pathologist Raquel Del Rosario Fortun told Reuters that crime scenes are open to abuse because the police “investigate themselves”. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

“All suspects were seriously injured,” said the police report. “Thereafter, wounded suspects were rushed to Novaliches District Hospital for medical treatment but pronounced dead on arrival by attending physician, Dr. Lawrence Laguno.”

Laguno told Reuters that all five men had been shot in the head and chest, with almost the same entry and exit wounds – injuries that looked to him both deliberate and impossible to survive. “It’s unusual to have the same five patients with almost the same injuries,” said the doctor. “It was a trained shooter. They knew what they were doing.”

Venters of Physicians for Human Rights said it is “incredibly rare” to sustain a tight grouping of gunshot wounds in a shootout. Venters, a medical doctor, has overseen research and investigations into extrajudicial killings. When bullets enter a body from the same direction and plane, it shows the target wasn’t moving, he said. “Either they were surprised and shot, or they were subdued and shot.”

Willie Saludares, acting chairman of the emergency room at East Avenue Medical Center, said doctors didn’t follow up on questionable cases, since how patients were killed wasn’t their concern. “I’m sorry to sound too cold, but that’s the way it is,” he said. “I am only concerned about the health of the patient. I’m not doing investigative work.”

Nor, it seemed, were others. Saludares said that state agencies that investigate police killings, such as the Commission on Human Rights or the National Bureau of Investigation, didn’t come to interview him. Saludares also said he was uncomfortable speaking freely and feared losing his job.

MAKING INQUIRIES: Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told Reuters in June he hadn’t heard of his officers removing bodies from crime scenes. He promised to investigate. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

Chito Gascon, chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, said that if specific cases were brought to the agency’s attention, its investigators should pursue them and secure testimony from doctors. But the Commission was stretched, he added. “The CHR, given its current capacity constraints, is only able to investigate and document a fraction of all the deaths that have been reported by the media,” he said.

The National Bureau of Investigation didn’t comment.

“THEY WEREN’T BREATHING”

Police say they don’t shoot to kill and that saving lives is paramount. But 17 witnesses interviewed by Reuters say their behavior at crime scenes suggests the opposite.

In September, in a district called Nagkaisang Nayon, precinct commander Llanderal led an operation that added six dead-on-arrival cases to the Quezon City body count. According to a police report, the suspects – five men and a woman – opened fire on undercover officers posing as drug buyers. They missed, and the officers returned fire.

“When the smoke cleared,” said the report, “all suspects sustained gunshot wounds on their body. Immediately thereafter, all suspects were rushed to Novaliches District Hospital for medical treatment but (were) pronounced dead on arrival.” None of the officers were injured.

Llanderal acknowledged that removing the bodies disturbed the crime scene, but insisted the suspects were alive. “They were still moving. All of them!” he said.

Bereaved relatives and other witnesses told Reuters the bodies were taken to hospital an hour or more after the shooting, and that none of the victims showed signs of life. “They weren’t moving. They weren’t breathing,” said Feliciano Dela Cruz, the local district chief.

“It’s not possible they were alive,” said Jocelyn Ceron, 47, whose husband, Ronaldo, was among the dead. “We saw them thrown in the back of a truck.”

Ceron said Ronaldo’s body had six bullet wounds: three in the chest or torso, one in the leg, and one in each hand. Relatives said the other bodies each bore at least six gunshot wounds. Ceron showed Reuters photos of the crime scene.

Llanderal confirmed that the photos were taken by police investigators and showed the immediate aftermath of his operation. One photo shows a woman lying face down in a blood-smeared alleyway. Others show a tiny room in which five men lie slumped in pools of blood or on the floor; two guns are clearly visible.

Reuters shared the crime scene photos with Fortun, the independent forensic scientist. “Based on the pictures, they are apparently very dead,” Fortun said of the six victims.

For so many bodies to be crammed into a tiny room “doesn’t seem consistent” with police claims that the suspects were shot while fleeing during a gun battle, she added.

Relatives of Ronaldo Ceron believe the police executed him and others in cold blood. A neighbour called Maricol Amacna said she heard one of the men begging, “Don’t kill me, sir!” The Commission on Human Rights says it is investigating the killings.

The police have dismissed allegations of wrongdoing as “useless and baseless,” and have issued commendations to Llanderal and his men for “the extraordinary courage you have displayed in the successful operation . . . which resulted in the neutralization” of the suspects.

Llanderal denied executing drug suspects. “In police operations, we don’t know where the bullets may hit,” he said. “Some suspects retaliate, fight us. We are only defending ourselves.”

LINE OF DUTY: Police line up for a flag-raising ceremony outside a station in Quezon City Police District in Manila in April. REUTERS/Andrew R.C. Marshall

Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato and Chin Samson

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Dead on Arrival

By Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall

Photo editing: Thomas White

Graphics: Simon Scarr and Jin Wu

Design: Catherine Tai

Video: Graham Mackay

Edited by Janet McBride and Peter Hirschberg

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/philippines-duterta-doa/

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The Philippines’ police chief on Friday stood by anti-narcotics officers and rejected a Reuters investigation that pointed to a pattern of police sending corpses of drug suspects to hospitals to destroy crime scene evidence and hide executions.

President Rodrigo Duterte took office in the Philippines a year ago, launching a bloody war on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos.

PREVIOUSLY FROM REUTERS INVESTIGATES:

Philippine police use hospitals to hide drug war killings

Podcast: Dead on arrival in Duterte’s drug war

In a television interview to mark the anniversary, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa appeared irritated by questions about the Reuters report, published on Thursday, and said police carrying out anti-drugs operations had a duty to save lives, even when encountering violent resistance.

He said police were not medically qualified to determine whether a victim was dead or alive and sent victims to hospital as part of operational procedure.

“What do you want, we let the wounded die? You don’t want us to rescue his life?” he told news channel ANC.

The Reuters investigation analyzed crime data from two of Metro Manila’s five police districts and included accounts of doctors, witnesses, law enforcement officials and victims’ families. [nL8N1JQ2NQ]

It showed a pattern of police sending dead bodies to hospitals, preventing thorough crime scene investigations from taking place after the killing of drug suspects. [nL8N1JQ2NQ]

Dela Rosa said Reuters, which has produced a series of in-depth reports into the war on drugs that have questioned official accounts, was “looking for faults” in the police.

“PNP is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Reuters really is looking for faults in us. We have to stand by our police operational procedure that in case of an encounter, if a person is not yet declared dead by the physician, you need to bring him to the hospital.”

He added: “Who are the policemen to say they are dead? They are not medical practitioners. If we did not bring them to the hospitals, the relatives might sue us.”

A spokeswoman for Reuters said the news agency stood by its reporting.

Duterte’s bloody campaign has been condemned by human rights groups and alarmed Western countries due to the high death toll and allegations of systematic extrajudicial killings and cover-ups by police. The PNP rejects those allegations.

FEW SURVIVORS

Reuters looked at police reports covering the first eight months of the drug war, which showed that in Quezon City Police District and neighboring Manila Police District, 301 victims were sent to hospital after police anti-drug operations. Only two survived and the rest were dead on arrival.

In nearly all cases where drug suspects have died during police operations in the year-long crackdown, the official accounts say police fired in self defense. Police say they do not shoot to kill.

Activists, however, say the circumstances behind many of the killings in police sting operations point to executions. A Reuters investigation last year found that when police opened fire in anti-drug operations, they killed 97 percent of people they shot.

The data analyzed in the latest Reuters investigation shows a sharp increase in the number of drug suspects declared dead on arrival in the Quezon City and Manila districts each month.

There were 10 cases when the drug war started a year ago in July 2016, or 13 percent of police drug shooting deaths. By January 2017, the tally rose to 51 cases, or 85 percent, at a time when criticism of Duterte’s campaign intensified.

A police commander who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the increase was no coincidence and police were

trying to prevent crime scene investigations and media attention that might show they were executing suspects.

Human rights groups say the anti-drugs crackdown, the signature policy of the populist Duterte, has been disastrous and has almost entirely targeted the poor, with most of those killed or arrested drug users and small-time dealers, with narcotics kingpins largely untouched.

Dela Rosa said police should not be disparaged for trying to save victims and the removal of bodies from a crime scene did not mean a proper investigation could not be carried out.

“Do not put malice in what the police does,” he said. “The crime scene is there even without the dead body.”

(Reporting by Martin Petty and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Alex Richardson)

***************************************************

Bato: Hospitals not being used for police coverup

A report from Reuters said many of the drug offenders who ended up in hospitals could have been dead even before they were brought there, possibly part of an attempt by police to cover up the killings. File

MANILA, Philippines –  Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa defended anti-narcotics operatives in Metro Manila from allegations that they use hospitals to cover up summary executions of suspected drug pushers.

A report from Reuters said many of the drug offenders who ended up in hospitals could have been dead even before they were brought there, possibly part of an attempt by police to cover up the killings.

An irate Dela Rosa hit back at Reuters in a televised interview over ANC on Friday, saying the news agency is bent on looking for flaws in their anti-drug operations.

“What does Reuters want? We just leave a person who has been shot to die?” Dela Rosa remarked.

“The PNP is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Reuters is really looking for faults,” he said.

Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy ordered an investigation into the allegations.

Malacañang deferred to Dela Rosa to answer the allegations.

President Rodrigo Duterte

“The PNP has already answered this matter and we defer to their response,” said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

Abella refused to answer further queries on whether President Duterte will continue to protect policemen who have resorted to cutting corners to attain the Chief Executive’s order to go after drug offenders.

“We will not make any comments regarding that matter. We will defer to the answer of General Bato (Dela Rosa),” he added.

A total of 3,200 people have been killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to June 13, 2017, the government said.

A total of 49 drug suspects were killed in the past week after they allegedly put up a fight with the police.

Some 47 lawmen have been killed and 132 others were wounded in anti-drug operations since last year.

“We will live and die with our war on drugs,” he said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) talks to Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa (R) during a press conference at the Malacanang palace in Manila on January 30, 2017. © NOEL CELIS / POOL / AFP

Dela Rosa vowed the campaign will be relentless until the last drug lord and pusher are arrested.

“We will finish it up to the last infrastructure of their shabu network business,” Dela Rosa said.

Debunking claims the police were orchestrating a cover up, Dela Rosa said it is part of their police procedures to save lives of criminals who engage policemen in a shootout.

Dela Rosa expressed frustration that police operatives are being portrayed negatively for doing their job.

“If we do not bring the suspect to the hospital, there is intention to kill, that’s why we left him to die. If we bring him to the hospital, we’ll be accused of covering up. Where do we go now?” he asked.

Reuters said 97 percent of the 301 drug suspects taken to hospitals in Quezon City and Manila were declared dead on arrival.

Dela Rosa retorted: “Who are you to say a person is dead? Are you a doctor? Only a doctor should declare (that a person is dead).”

He explained investigators can still process scenes even if the body was already taken out.

“Don’t put malice in the actions of the police because the crime scene is still there even if the body is gone,” Dela Rosa said.

He maintained they would never tolerate policemen who  commit abuses in the government’s war on drugs.

He added the campaign of purging the police ranks of scalawags continues as he revealed he is about to sign dismissal orders of 84 police officers whose administrative cases have been resolved.

“In less than one year, I was able to dismiss around 160 personnel. There are even more coming,” Dela Rosa said.

–  With Christina Mendez

Related:

 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)

President Rodrigo Duterte's crusade against drug users and dealers is controversial

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2 Responses to “Philippine police use hospitals to hide drug war killings — Plus Philippine National Police Chief Response”

  1. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

  2. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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