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Killings in PH continue despite shift in drug war focus —HRW

The killings of alleged drug dealers and users continue in the Philippines despite President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s remark that he would shift the government’s drug war focus to rehabilitation, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

"President Marcos keeps telling foreign leaders that he’s ready to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines, but this is not going to happen so long as the police kill suspected drug users with impunity," HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

"Marcos has a golden opportunity to prove that he is serious about human rights by ordering the end of the 'drug war'," he added.

According to the HRW, Marcos should publicly order the Philippine National Police to end its "deadly anti-drug raids."

Government records showed that at least 6,200 drug suspects have been killed in police operations from June 2016 until November 2021. Several human rights groups, however, claimed the actual death toll could be from 12,000 to 30,000.

HRW said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has pegged the death toll at 8,663.

GMA News Online has reached out to Malacañang for its comment but it has yet to give one as of posting time.

No accountability

During a press conference in Indonesia to release HRW's World Report 2023, both Robertson and HRW Asia Director Elaine Pearson said no accountability has been meted out for the killings.

They issued the remark when asked if the Marcos administration should prioritize holding former President Rodrigo Duterte, the architect of the drug war, accountable for the killings.

"[T]he killings of thousands of people in the Philippines under Duterte’s war on drugs is also a crime against humanity and there has been no accountability on that,” Pearson said.

“So, you know, if the Marcos government is actually serious about addressing human rights concerns then there needs to be accountability for all of these extrajudicial killings that have occurred in the Philippines,” she later added.

For his part, Robertson said nothing has really changed in the country when it comes to the government’s anti-drug campaign.

"We insist that there have to be real changes on the ground. There has to be accountability, there have to be investigations and prosecutions, not the sort of talking about an investigation but a real investigation where accountability is guaranteed," he said.

CHR, De Lima

According to Robertson, the Marcos administration has also yet to appoint "serious commissioners" to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

"And the people who have been appointed so far don’t really have, as far as we can see, much of a track record on human rights. We hope that they will do a good job but we haven’t seen anything yet," he said.

The HRW also mentioned that former Senator Leila de Lima continues to be detained “on bogus charges.”

"The case against her should be dropped, she should be released tomorrow," Robertson said.

De Lima has been detained at Camp Crame since 2017 over alleged links to the illegal drug operations inside the New Bilibid Prison. One of the three drug charges against her was junked by the Muntinlupa Court in February 2021.

HRW report

Meanwhile, in its report, the HRW expressed concern about the red-tagging and harassment of activists as well as attacks on journalists in the Philippines.

“During the year, the government used the cyber-libel law several times against journalists, columnists, critics of the government, and ordinary social media users,’ the HRW said. —KBK, GMA Integrated News