HRW, US turn up heat on Rody’s war


By Gerry Baldo
and Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

Human rights groups in tandem with the United States have stepped up the pressure on President Duterte over the conduct of his bloody war on drugs with the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) calling on the US and members of the European Union (EU) to end funding and training programs for the Philippine National Police after the US diverted $5 million earmarked for the PNP to maritime law enforcement last September.HRW said its call for Western nations to fund PNP programs was in response to the questionable deaths of 1,959 drug suspects in Duterte’s drugs war.

Phelim Kine, the deputy Asia director of HRW and long-time nemesis of then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, said the PNP has failed to investigate the 1,959 killings and simply dismissed the high death toll as the result of the suspects “fighting it out with lawmen.”
Kine, who earlier accused Duterte of being the brains of the dreaded Davao Death Squad (DDS), said the policemen implicated in hundreds of killings in Manila and other cities have been assisted significantly by their best benefactor, apart from Duterte: The US government.
The US State Department said yesterday it remains “deeply concerned” on the rising number of casualties in the anti-narcotics campaign.
From October, 2016 to September, 2017, the US government had committed to provide $180 million in assistance to the Philippines. Some $5 million of this financial aid that was supposed to be directed to the enhancement of law enforcement operations, $4.5 million was reallocated to maritime law enforcement.
A State Department spokesman was quoted in a report as saying that the money will specifically be allocated to the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries instead of the PNP.
In a press briefing, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the assistance program was rechanneled as an act of “prudence”.
He said since the start Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign, law enforcement assistance was also “refocused away” from narcotics control to providing human rights training to the PNP.
Kine said more than 5,000 Filipinos have been slain in the course of the “anti-drug war,” 99 percent of them poor, with many of the fatalities wearing Duterte wristbands when killed.
Some of the victims included children as young as 9-years-old, a teenager clutching a Barbie doll, grandfathers, some people residing in cemeteries and even teachers and barangay officials accused of dealing with methamphetamine hydrochloride, commonly known as “shabu” or poor man’s cocaine, that Chinese drug lords introduced to the country.
Duterte and the PNP said some of the fatalities were “collateral damage” in a war that aims to eliminate 3.7 million shabu users while not saying anything about Chinese drug lords who were responsible for the menace in the first place.
Worse, word has reached HRW and other human rights groups that a P5,000 bounty is paid for every hit, much like the reward for each activist murdered during the equally bloody nine-year administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo form 2001 to 2010.
HRW quotes online news outfit
Quoting an investigation of online publication Buzzfeed, Kine said the inquiry revealed that “officers at police stations receiving support from the US have played a central role in Duterte’s bloody campaign. . .it is clear that many of the stations, especially those in the capital city of Manila, are collectively responsible for hundreds of deaths.”
Official statistics indicate that police have killed 1,959 “drug personalities” between July 1 and November 25.
Police have attributed those killings to suspects who “who resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” but have not provided further evidence that police acted in self-defense.
PNP, Kine added, said an additional 3,658 alleged drug users and drug dealers were killed by “unidentified gunmen” between July 1 and November 23.
The gunmen employ two methods, which is through the use of duct tape to cover the faces of their victims and by trussing up the victims and shooting and stabbing them.
In both instances, the gunmen leave alegedly heavily-Cebuano accented messages written on cardboards, very similar to the language used in Davao City, from where the original death squads came. However, the cardboard messages seen on TV clips are in Tagalog, not Visayan language.
“The ongoing US-funded training for Philippine police contrasts with the US State Department decision earlier this month to suspend the sale of 26,000 military assault rifles to the PNP due to opposition to the sale from Sen. Ben Cardin, a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Kine.
Cardin castigated the abuses linked to Duterte’s anti-drug campaign as “systematic, wide-spread, brutal, and beyond the bounds for a constitutional democracy.”
“The US – along with other foreign governments that provide funding and training assistance to the PNP, including the European Union (EU) – should signal its concern about Duterte’s “war on drugs” by immediately suspending assistance, including training, to the Philippine police,” Kine said.
“The US should also publicly disclose information on Philippine police recipients of that assistance to determine if there have been any violations of the Leahy Law on Human Rights, which bars security force units implicated in human rights abuses from receiving US government-supplied training or equipment.Training police who are murderers just makes them better murderers,” he said.
At the height of President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, the Obama administration and human rights groups have criticized Duterte on the spate of extrajudicial killings.
Kirby said historically, State Department-funded training has aimed to transform the PNP into a modern, sustainable, democratic police force capable of effectively providing internal security in difficult conditions while, of course, demonstrating respect for democratic principles and human rights.
Under the Leahy Law, the US is barred from providing training or equipment to foreign troops who commit human-rights violations.
Kirby said the US aims to expand the country’d capacity to conduct effective, lawful investigation and professionalizes the criminal justice system to make it more “accountable, transparent and just.”
But since the start of the drug campaign, “our law enforcement assistance has been refocused away from narcotics control to supporting maritime security efforts and to providing human rights training to the Philippine National Police,” he said.
“Since the beginning of this counter-narcotics campaign, we decided the prudent thing to do was to refocus the way that assistance was being spent,” he reiterated.
     Rights groups ‘appalled’
Human rights campaigners also expressed shock and defiance after Duterte threatened to kill them for hindering his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte issued his warning on Monday as the death toll from his controversial crackdown climbed above 4,800, or roughly an average of 30 deaths a day since it began five months ago.
“The human rights (defenders) say I kill. If I say: ‘Okay, I’ll stop’. They (drug users) will multiply,” Duterte said.
“When harvest time comes, there will be more of them who will die. Then I will include you among them because you let them multiply,” he added.
Amnesty International Philippines was among a range of groups to speak out against the comments, saying it was “appalled.”
“This pronouncement is... inciting hate toward anyone who expresses dissent on his war against drugs,” it said in a statement.
The National Alliance against Killings Philippines, a newly formed coalition of rights groups, said it took the threat very seriously and called on Duterte to revoke it.
“His comment, that human rights is part of the drug problem and, as such, human rights advocates should be targeted too, can be interpreted as a declaration of an open season on human rights defenders,” it said.
Father Atilano Fajardo of the archdiocese of Manila, who works with urban poor groups, said those seeking to protect the vulnerable would not be intimidated.
Fajardo said the Catholic Church, which counts more than 70 percent of Filipinos as followers and has so far been subdued in its criticism of the drug war, was starting to find its voice on the issue.
“That is why he is more threatening. He cannot just frighten us. The priests and nuns will speak out,” he said.
Duterte won presidential elections in May after pledging to kill tens of thousands of drug suspects, warning that otherwise the Philippines would turn into a narco-state.
While President Duterte threatened to “kill” human rights advocates in a speech at the Palace on Monday evening, Ablan said that the President’s verbal frustrations shouldn’t be swallowed literally.
“There is no censorship at all in media or in human rights groups or in any those who protest against the government,” he said.
“We respect the right to assemble. We respect free speech. We appeal that citizens observe that the President walks the walk rather than his talk,” the Palace mouthpiece added.
   Leila speaks of ‘great evil’
Great evil was how Sen. Leila de Lima yesterday described Duterte and his leadership.
De Lima’s tirades came in reaction to the President’s stern warning to human rights activists who have been critical of his war against drugs, that they could be his next target if they country’s drug problem worsens.
“President Duterte must not be allowed to kill human rights activists and absolve himself of their by pulling out of the ICC (International Criminal Court),” she added.
“His impunity, both in words and actions, must be put to a stop and end soon. There is no other way to do this but to continue to fight for what is right and to defeat the great evil that now pervades in this country,” she said.
The latest statement of the President, De Lima said, to the effect that he will be killing human rights activists soon and that he will pull out of the country as a treaty party to the Rome Statute of the ICC are only some of the threats coming from him at present.
“Human rights must be defended strongly now more than ever,” the senator, former chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), said.
“As President, Duterte’s statements must be taken seriously. We cannot take these statements as mere jokes. Action must be taken to assure that the government respects and abides by the human rights of everyone. We must defend those who defend human rights in this country and oppose all initiatives and actions that would make international accountability for human rights violations and abuses difficult,” she said.

Ted Tuvera, Angie M. Rosales, AFP