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Senate inquiry should help hold back excesses

DURING the two-day inquiry led by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), gave a good account of what the PNP has accomplished so far in the last few weeks in the Duterte administration’s anti-drugs campaign.

Dela Rosa reported 1,160 deaths in police anti-drug operations since July 1. The total number of deaths was 1,916 – meaning 756 others were killed by unknown perpetrators, possibly vigilante groups, possibly rival drug gangs. A total of 11,784 had been arrested, while 673,978 drug users and pushers had surrendered to authorities. Police estimated the number of drug users in the country at 1.3 million.

Since the start of police operations, Dela Rosa said, the overall crime volume – for such crimes as robbery, rape, physical injuries, and theft – had gone down by 31 percent compared to last year. It does seem that the new administration is well on the way to achieving President Duterte’s campaign promise that he would try to stop crime, particularly drugs, in three to six months.

At the same time, the Senate inquiry has served to call public attention to possible abuses in the police campaign against drugs. Several relatives of those claimed to be innocent victims of police operations testified at the Senate hearing to appeal for justice. They sought to hide their identities behind scarves and dark glasses, fearing retaliation by those they were accusing.

An urban poor organization, the Katipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap, demonstrated at Camp Crame last Wednesday, claiming that extrajudicial killings had escalated to terrifying levels. Amnesty International issued a statement calling Dela Rosa’s disclosure of thousands of killings by police and unidentified people as “terrifying proof that the law-enforcement authorities have failed in their duty to respect and protect the right to life.”

There have been similar critical statements from the United Nations as well as the United States government, drawing angry retorts from President Duterte himself who said the US has its own killings of black people by policemen. He threatened to pull out the Philippines from the UN but he said later he was just pissed off by what he believed to be undue criticism and did not really mean to pull out from the UN.

There is a side issue in connection with Senator De Lima’s inquiry and this is the charge made by President Duterte in an interview that the senator is herself in what he called a “matrix” involved in drug operations at Bilibid, along with a congressman, a former justice undersecretary, and a retired police official. The House is setting its own inquiry on this matter.

The drug problem is turning out to be a many-headed hydra and the end is not in sight. The Senate inquiry initiated by Senator De Lima has served its purpose of clarifying what has happened so far, including possible abuses in police operations. We hope it has helped to keep any such abuses in check so that the ongoing campaign will stand out as a truly outstanding achievement of the administration untainted by violations and excesses.