The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern again over the number of deaths recorded under President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs.
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In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office monitors very closely the human rights situation in Manila. Despite acknowledging the government-backed data showing the “real numbers” in the widely criticized campaign, Bachelet said the UN views the number of deaths as “extraordinarily high.”
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“The extraordinarily high number of deaths—and persistent reports of extrajudicial killings—in the context of campaigns against drug use continue. Even the officially confirmed number of 5,425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country,” she said during the opening of the council’s 41st session on Monday.
She said police and law enforcement agencies should present “comprehensive and transparent information” to explain the circumstances concerning the death toll, and investigations related to allegations of rights violations.
“These could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities,” Bachelet said, noting that there have been cases of intimidation against people who oppose the Duterte administration’s policies.
The UN human rights chief said human rights defenders, including activists for land rights and indigenous peoples, journalists, lawyers, members of the Catholic clergy, and others who have spoken out “have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior government officials.”
“This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression,” she said.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers welcomed Bachelet’s statement, saying that its “tenor and tone apparently reflect the desired credibility, objectivity, transparency, and fairness on the matter.”
NUPL president Edre Olalia said Bachelet’s statement “does not only underscore the urgency and imperative of squarely and decisively addressing the issue and concerns about these horrendous extrajudicial killings, but also other brazen human rights violations.”
“Many of these transgressions are disguised or legitimized by the color of legality and official sanction including those against lawyers under attack,” Olalia said.
The Philippine National Police welcomed the UN rights body’s acknowledgment of their data concerning the drug war.
PNP Spokesman Col. Bernard Banac said Bachelet’s recognition of the “real numbers” show that the varying figures reported to UNHCHR by the special rapporteurs and its other sources “were not consistent with truth.”
“Their bloated figures don’t add up and cannot support any further need of the UN body to see the true and accurate picture of the Philippines’ lonely crusade against the global problem of illegal drugs,” Banac said.
He said the police, in prosecuting the war on drugs, have followed standard procedures.
But the rights group Karapatan said the PNP only played down the number of deaths and said Banac’s statement shows they have a “very low regard for human life.”
“I don’t know if the Philippine National Police are in their right minds. Whether that’s 5,000 or 30,000, there must be an independent and thorough investigation on the issue of extrajudicial killings,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, told ABS-CBN News.
“Even if the numbers are even 5, no? What we are saying, whether it’s 1 or 1,000 or 100,000, the point is the government is not doing anything about it and it’s continuing its deadly campaign,” she added.
On the other hand, Banac maintained that they respect human rights, insisting that their operations are based on lawful orders.
“Human rights is perfectly in place, exercised and protected in the Philippines in accordance with the Constitution. Respect for human rights is deeply embedded in all police systems and procedures as a matter of organizational policy,” Banac said.
“If at all any irregularity had been found, these were immediately investigated and corrected with punitive action against the errant police personnel,” he added.
The President has repeatedly slammed human rights groups for criticizing his war on drugs. In March, Duterte withdrew the Philippines’ membership from the International Criminal Court following a case filed against him in relation to his highly criticized anti-drug campaign.
Malacañang has previously said 164,265 drug suspects have been arrested, 9,503 barangays cleared from drugs, and P25.19 billion worth of drugs and equipment have been seized as of since the start of Duterte’s term in 2016 until November 2018.
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