Palace strikes back at critics of drug war

The Palace said Thursday there were limits to the right of free expression after the UN human rights office accused the Philippines of using the COVID-19 pandemic to crush dissent and to silence critics.

READ: Killing with 'near impunity' in Philippine drug war: UN

In a televised briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque cited the provision in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that penalizes anyone spreading false information “clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion” during the public health emergency.

“Freedom of expression is not absolute. It is subject to derogation and one form of derogation is the criminal clause… in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” Roque said.

He also dismissed suggestions of an independent UN investigation, saying the Philippines has a functioning judicial system.

The UN report, released Thursday, said President Duterte’s drug war has unleashed widespread and systematic killing with “near impunity” for offenders.

Police have been encouraged by the highest levels of government to use lethal force on drug suspects and thousands have been killed by officers and unknown gunmen since 2016, the UN human rights office said.

Many victims had been put on “drug watch lists” by local officials and then visited by police at their homes, which often ends in a deadly shooting that officers claim was self-defense.

But details in police reports on the incidents cast doubt on their own version of events, the UN office said, citing an example of two handguns which each reappeared at five different crime scenes.

“Despite credible allegations of widespread and systematic extrajudicial killings in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs, there has been near impunity for such violations,” it said.

The UN office called for “independent, impartial, credible investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law” after the Philippines’ failure to ensure accountability.

Its report will be presented this month to the UN Human Rights Council, which requested the review of the crackdown last year.

Duterte, who fiercely defends the drug war against international criticism, lashed out against the move, even suspending for a time negotiations of loans and grants with countries that backed the report.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency says officers have killed about 5,600 suspects in official operations.

But watchdogs say the true toll is at least three times higher, including killing done by masked gunmen on motorcycles.

The International Criminal Court also launched a preliminary examination of the drug war in 2018, which would determine if it opens a full-blown investigation.

Despite the thousands of deadly shootings, police have only been convicted for the 2017 killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

“This outcome owes much to the availability of CCTV footage and public outrage following the murder,” the UN report noted.

Duterte’s government denies it has a policy to kill drug suspects, but as he took office in 2016 the president said: “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”

While data is limited on those killed, many appear to have been poor men living in urban areas who were frequently breadwinners, the report said.

The UN report also notes the lack of comprehensive and reliable data on the campaign, including the number of people killed.

And while 223,780 “drug personalities” were arrested in the campaign’s first three years, it is not clear how many had been convicted, released or remained behind bars, it said. With AFP

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Topics: free expression , United Nations. human rights , Harry Roque , Bayanihan to Heal as One Act
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