Investigation into police operations of the so-called war on drugs

The Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded its investigation into 50 cases of illegal-drug operations resulting in death. Without releasing the related report or disclosing details, DOJ Undersecretary Adrian Sugay summarized the investigation’s findings on October 3, 2021. Almost all of the 150 police officers involved committed misconduct during the operations. Depending on the gravity of their offense, they may be reassigned or suspended. If criminally liable, they also face charges of homicide and murder.  DOJ’s findings, along with evidence, were forwarded to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for further investigation, which would then file criminal charges if necessary.

It is precisely this renewed (and thus third) round of investigation that the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) criticizes as “superfluous.” Although the NBI was originally part of the review board, it was excluded in this inquiry after keeping the (total) 52 cases secret for five years. The DOJ could instead file charges itself. CHR Commissioner Karen Dumpit stresses: „The process should be expedited, families of victims have waited too long to access justice.  Some cases have gone cold and the longer the investigation takes, it will be harder to prosecute.“

Harry Roque, the presidential spokesman announced that the government would make the results of the investigation public, responding to the request of the UN Human Rights Council. One of the 52 cases under investigation is that of Spanish citizen Diego Lapuente. He was killed on Jan. 8, 2020, during an operation against illegal drugs on Siargao Island. The case attracted attention in Spain, and the ambassador urged an investigation. On Sept. 17, three police officers were charged with Lapuente’s murder, and they can still file their counter-affidavits until Oct. 25, 2021.

However, the acquittal of 19 policemen on October 6, 2021 highlights the ongoing impunity in the so-called war on drugs. They were charged with homicide in the case of Mayor Rolando Espinosa, who was shot dead in November 2016.

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