House of Representatives leads inquiry into drug-related killings

On May 22, 2024, the Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives of the Philippines launched an inquiry into the drug-related killings or extrajudicial killings in the context of the so-called “war on drugs” under the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

During the initial hearings, the congressmen and congresswomen scrutinized the actions taken by the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) during the Duterte administration regarding the rising number of drug-related killings in the context of police anti-drug operations. Former Justice Secretary and current Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra explained that of the more than 6,000 reported drug-related killings, the DOJ had investigated more than 900 complaints against police officers. The DOJ prioritized out of those complaints only 52 cases where the prospect of a trial was sufficient. However, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) revealed that by June 5, 2024, 30 of the 52 cases had already been closed.

During a hearing, Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano also raised questions about the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) original guideline, Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016, also known as “Project Double Barrel”, which, among other things, formed the basis for the operationalization of the controversial “Oplan Tokhang” method in the government’s anti-drug campaign (“knock” and “ask”). Paduano criticized the PNP chiefs under Duterte, Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa and Oscar Albayalde, for not making changes even though drug-related killings were occurring in PNP operations. The current PNP leadership later stressed that they have been following a new PNP guideline since April 12, 2022, namely the “Anti-Illegal Drugs Operation thru Reinforcement and Education” (ADORE). ADORE is formulated more moderately than the 2016 PNP circular and recognizes, for example, procedural errors or the PNP’s deception of evidence in previous anti-drug operations.

During the hearing, the congressmen focused on facts and data already known. When human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno mentioned a 2018 Supreme Court (SC) resolution that cited the documentation of 20,322 drug-related killings in the context of the former Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign, some congresspeople appeared unaware.

With three people, the relatives of victims of drug-related killings were less well represented at the hearings of the inquiry. Even though Rep. Bienvenido Abante assured the relatives of protection, according to Secretary General of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Kristina Konti, many were too afraid of retaliation. The effectiveness of the investigation was also in question due to the absence of former President Duterte and his former police chief Dela Rosa. According to Rep. Abante, they were informed about the hearing but not invited.

The study “Pathways to Justice: A Public Report on Domestic Accountability” by the Initiative for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) found that 95 percent of the investigated alleged drug-related killings were either never investigated or not followed up by the authorities. This trend is seen by the families of victims interviewed as a lack of will for genuine investigations by the government.

The next hearing on this issue is scheduled for 26 June, 2024.


Photo © Raffy Lerma

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