Last August, the usually reserved US Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, weighed in at the height of the public fury over the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.
After expressing his condolences, Kim tweeted that he hoped "that the investigations lead to full accountability," a rare public comment from the envoy on the Duterte administration's bloody anti-drug campaign.
Five months later, Kim told GMA News that "I would not say that there's been full satisfaction."
"I think many Filipinos will agree with me that there's more work that needs to be done in terms of investigations and accountability in these allegations of police abuse," the Korean-American diplomat said in an interview that aired Tuesday on News To Go. The interview took place shortly after the US envoy marked his first year in the Philippines, coinciding with President Donald Trump's turbulent first year in office.
Despite persistent questions about Trump's commitment to human rights, Kim asserted that "our fundamental approach on human rights has not changed."
"I think Secretary of State (Rex) Tillerson has stated on many occasions that we remain committed to upholding fundamental values, universal values that should matter to all societies," Kim said. "I do think that how you approach sensitive issues like human rights matters. Sometimes, it’s more effective for us to be quiet and hold private discussions rather than make public speeches or to be publicly critical."
Kim said he has privately discussed the drug war "many, many times" with President Rodrigo Duterte and senior Philippine officials.
He sees new hope in the former Armed Forces chief of staff, Eduardo Año, a respected Army general and the newly appointed head of the Department of Interior and Local Government, which has authority over the PNP.
"I think in General Año, you have a strong leader, and he has been very clear that he will deal with these issues in a strong, honest, and sincere manner. And I believe him," Kim said. "I'm hoping that his leadership of DILG will translate into more responsible behavior by police officers who were not behaving in the best possible way."
Año told the media on Tuesday that "I don’t believe in extrajudicial killings... We will make sure that the rights of every individual are respected and recognized."
While some US senators have been severely critical of the Philippine National Police, the military under Año has generally been regarded as a more professional organization.
The US and Philippine militaries further cemented their ties in the crucible of the five-month-long Marawi crisis.
Four Caloocan policemen are facing charges of murdering Kian delos Santos, the minor who was killed in an anti-illegal drugs operation on August 16, 2017. CCTV video of the boy being dragged away, and not shooting it out with police as they initially claimed, fueled public outrage.
Ambassador Kim admitted to being affected as well. "I, like so many Filipinos, was really pained by what happened to this young man... I think in that tweet, I was expressing my personal outrage and concern." —with Rie Takumi/NB/KG, GMA News