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DOJ doubts self-defense claim of cops in EJK cases

The government’s review of 52 anti-drug operations has cast doubt on police claims they acted in self-defense when they shot and killed suspects, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday.

DOJ doubts self-defense claim of cops in EJK cases
File photo shows police officers investigating the body of an alleged drug dealer whose face was covered with packaging tape in Manila and whose body bore a placard that reads ‘I am a pusher.’ AFP
Guevarra said 154 officers have been tagged for “possible criminal liability” over police operations carried out during President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

Most of the cases reviewed by the Justice Department and made public Wednesday were drug war operations that ended in the fatal shooting of the suspect. There were 56 deaths in all, most of them suspects.

“Most... indicate circumstances that do not support the police officers’ claim of self-defense,” Guevarra said. “That is why we have endorsed these cases to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) for a proper case build-up.”

Most of the officers involved in the cases had been recommended for demotion or temporary suspension by the police internal affairs service.

In one incident, the suspect was shot 15 times after allegedly firing at police, who received a 31-day suspension from duty.

Guevarra last year told the United Nations Human Rights Council that an inter-agency review of 5,655 deadly anti-drug operations was under way.

His announcement came after the UN human rights office released a damning report on the drug war.

Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch senior researcher for the Philippines, said the reviewed cases showed the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”

Duterte was elected in 2016 on a promise to get rid of the Philippines’ drug problem, openly ordering police to kill drug suspects if officers’ lives were in danger.

At least 6,191 people have died in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to the latest official data.

Rights groups estimate tens of thousands of mostly poor men have been killed in the crackdown.

International Criminal Court judges authorized in September a full-blown investigation into the anti-narcotics campaign, saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.

Guevarra said the Justice Department’s actions were not “to impress or influence the ICC, but because it is the right and just thing to do.”

“Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will also look into the files of the thousands of other cases where no liability was found (by police internal affairs),” he said.

While defending the drug war Philippine National Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar on Wednesday urged victims to “cooperate in holding policemen who committed abuses accountable for their action.”

Three Philippine policemen were sentenced in 2018 to decades in prison for murdering a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep, the first and only conviction so far against officers carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs.

Duterte said this month he would prepare his defense against an ICC probe, after previously insisting he would not cooperate.

The information made available by the DOJ Wednesday included docket numbers, names of the deceased suspects, places and dates of the incidents and the review panel’s summary of observations on these cases. The names of the police officers involved were not released, however, because of “due process considerations.”

Among the 52 cases, the most number of deaths in a single incident involved the operation in Liloy, Zamboanga del Norte on July 29, 2016 which resulted in the deaths of three persons.

Police said the suspects on board a vehicle refused to stop at a checkpoint and opened fire on the officers, but the DOJ review panel said the medico-legal report showed the victims appeared to have been shot at close range.

The PNP-IAS ordered the police involved in the case dismissed.

An early case involved a man killed in a shootout with police in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City in December 2016. But the DOJ review showed the records of the case contained no detailed narration, no indication of the cause of death in the death certificate, no pre-operation report, no ballistics or paraffin test results or autopsy findings. In this incident, the officers involved were found guilty of “grave irregularity in the performance of [their] duty.”

Different areas in Laguna accounted for the most number of cases—at least 15.

The earliest case reviewed involved the death of a man in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on July 20, 2016. The police said the suspect had been accosted at a checkpoint for operating a motorcycle without license plates and on the way to the police station, he tried to grab the firearm of one of the arresting officers, prompting the use of deadly force. There was no autopsy or death certificate on record, however.

Eleazar welcomed the DOJ decision to release the information on the cases, saying it is “in the interest of truth, transparency and justice.”

The DOJ on Wednesday urged witnesses to come forward to help in the prosecution of the 154 policemen linked to criminal acts during 52 drug operations that resulted in the deaths of 56 people, most of them suspects.

“These cases are to undergo further investigation and case buildup by the National Bureau of Investigation for the possible filing of criminal charges against erring police officers,” the DOJ said, in a statement.

The PNP-IAS submitted the records of the 52 cases to the DOJ for review after finding administrative liability on the part of the policemen involved in the drugs operations.

In some instances, suspects that were killed in the administration’s drug war tested negative for gunpowder nitrates—even though police said they fired first.

One such case was that of 17-year-old Nave Perry Alcantara, who allegedly fired at police during a buy-bust operation in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan in August 2018.

“IAS (PNP-Internal Affairs Service) noted that at the time of the shooting, the suspect and the police operative who shot the suspect were standing only a meter apart,” the DOJ panel said.

“Considering the relative positions of the two persons at the time of the alleged shooting, IAS expressed doubt with regard to the police operative’s claim of self-defense,” the panel added.

The IAS recommended a 60-day suspension for one of the cops and the dismissal of an administrative complaint against the other policemen.

Benjamin Calisnao was killed in a buy-bust operation in Aparri, Cagayan in August 2017. The three policemen who fired at and killed Calisnao said he fired at them first, but a paraffin test showed the suspect had no gunpowder nitrates.

The review panel noted that Crispin Vedaño was killed in an alleged buy-bust operation in Bansud, Oriental Mindoro in January 2020. Though no autopsy records were submitted, photographs showed that Vedaño had sustained two gunshot wounds to the back. He also tested negative for gunpowder nitrates.

The DOJ said the police officer did not provide documents showing that it was a legitimate buy-bust operation. Police authorities recommended a six-month suspension.

Another suspect, Dionisio Corpin, was killed during a buy-bust operation involving firearms in San Pedro City, Laguna in February 2019. He was negative for gunpowder nitrates. The DOJ noted that the case did not appear to be related to the drug war.

In a buy-bust operation in Tanza, Cavite in July 2020, Celvin Pernes allegedly drew a gun against a police officer. Paraffin test results, however, showed that he was negative for gunpowder nitrates. Again, a 60-day suspension was recommended against the police officer.

The Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday welcomed the decision of the DOJ to release information on the 52 cases.

“We hope that the release of the said information may be helpful to the victims’ families in knowing the status of the investigation and, more importantly, encourage witnesses to come out and participate toward the resolution of cases of these deaths,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia.

Guevarra had told the UN Human Rights Council in February 2021 that in more than half of the 5,655 cases in which suspects allegedly fired first, the police had failed to follow standard protocols.

But the DOJ later said its inquiry would cover only 328 cases, and that the PNP had given it access to 61 administrative cases for its review, De Guia said.

“While we see movement, CHR continues to urge the government to remain mindful of the remaining thousands of alleged EJK (extra-judicial killing) cases waiting for resolution and justice,” she said. With AFP

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , drug war , anti-drug operations , Menardo Guevarra
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