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Human rights in the anti-drugs campaign

THE Senate opens today an inquiry into the ongoing anti-drugs campaign of the Duterte administration which has already resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of arrests, and tens of thousands of surrenders of both pushers and users. Over 800 had already been killed by the middle of last month and the figure continues to grow, raising fears of human rights violations.

In the last few days, there have been considerable fireworks around the person of Sen. Leila de Lima, whose Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights is to conduct the inquiry. President Duterte has accused her of having an affair with her driver who allegedly collected drug money for her inside the New Bilibid Prison. Last Friday, she called most of the charges “lies, distortions, and exaggerations,” but did admit some of it was true – “may kaunting totoo.”

The entire exchange of charges may affect the public’s response to the inquiry, but the senator said it will be held as scheduled. She said she fully supports the President’s war on drugs, but laws may need to be enacted both to ensure the rule of law and to help the police in carrying out their duties.

Until the new administration began its anti-drugs campaign, no one in government appeared to be aware of the magnitude of the problem. Suddenly, even before the start of the new administration, killings began to be reported all over the country in unprecedented numbers, along with arrests and surrenders by drug suspects and users.

There seem to be two kinds of killings, Senator De Lima said. There are those who resist arrest and are shot to death. Then there are so-called vigilante killings – bodies just turn up in out-of-the-way places with a crudely written placard saying “Drug pusher. Huwag tularan.” One suspicion is that drug gangs are eliminating business rivals.

There have been witnesses, mothers and other family members, questioning the manner in which some suspects were shot dead by arresting officers. Some of the witnesses will testify at the Senate hearing.

The police, led by the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Director General Roland de la Rosa, will be at the hearing as well to give their official report. They should be able to answer any questions that may arise during the hearing.

Aside from the killings, other matters may come up in the Senate. The ongoing anti-drugs campaign has exposed such a big number of drug users in the country today, so that it is no longer just a law-enforcement problem but a public health one.

We hope, as Senator De Lima said, that the Senate inquiry will help the administration in carrying out its anti-drugs campaign more thoroughly, more effectively, keeping true to the rule of law and universal human rights.