“President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to block access to records of police killings in the drug war is a clear and undeniable pronouncement that this government openly encourages impunity.” — Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General, Karapatan
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) revealed it is being kept out of the review of the first partial report of the deaths resulting from the conduct of the Rodrigo Duterte government’s anti-illegal drug operations.
The CHR said the snub is contrary to the commitments and assurances of the government during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year.
“This is an unfulfilled promise to Filipinos and the entire community of nations,” CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said in a statement Monday.
In his speech delivered online during the UNHRC’s 44th general session last June 30, Guevarra said the Duterte government established an inter-agency panel, chaired by his office, “that is quietly conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred.”
The members of the interagency panel are the Department of Justice, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, the Presidential Management Staff, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation, Guevarra later revealed.
The government assured the international community that the CHR would play a role in the panel.
“As with all human rights-related mechanisms in the country, the Commission on Human Rights would be involved in its capacity as an independent monitoring body,” it said.
But Dumpit said the CHR has not been involved despite “respectfully, diligently, consistently, and repeatedly asked the Department of Justice” concerning its role in the said panel, to no avail.
Nonetheless, Dumpit said the CHR strongly urges the Government to publicize the findings “as transparency is key to ensure the credibility of the said report.”
“This will allow victims and their families to access crucial information in the process of obtaining justice. We reiterate our openness and willingness to engage with the government in this process,” Dumpit said.
What the UNHRC said
In a 26-page report last June 4, the UNHRC said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.
The report also noted that the anti-drug killings range from “at least 8,663” to possibly triple the number.
In examining key policy documents of the Duterte government relating to its campaign against illegal drugs, the UNHRC found a troubling lack of due process, protections, and the use of language calling for “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects.
“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the UNHRC report stated.
In a separate statement issued last June 26, various UN special rapporteurs said the UNHRC report confirmed their findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition.
“The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” the UN experts said.
The experts highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the Government”:
- Based on the most conservative assessment, since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed in the war on drugs and 223,780 “drug personalities” arrested, with estimates of triple that number.
- At least 73 children were killed during that period in the context of a campaign against illegal drugs. Concerns have also been raised about grave violations against children committed by State and non-State actors in the context of military operations, including the recruitment and use of children in combat or support.
- The lasting economic harm and increased poverty among the children and other family members of those killed is likely to lead to further human rights violations.
- At least 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, plus at least 40 legal professionals had been killed since 2015, many of whom were working on politically sensitive cases or advocating for land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples and housing rights of the urban poor.
- The Securities and Exchanges Commission in 2018 revoked the license of a prominent news website Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, has been arrested multiple times on various charges and found guilty of cyber libel.
- On 5 May 2020, President Duterte’s government ordered the shut-down of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from the President in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs”.
- There has been no accountability whatsoever for the multiple human rights and humanitarian law violations, limited follow-up on transitional justice and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; independent investigations by local institutions have been thwarted; many in the opposition silenced, including Senator Leila Norma Eulalia de Lima imprisoned since 24 February 2017.
- President Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the “war on drugs” in 2018.
The special rapporteurs also called on the UNHRC member-states “to initiate governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) again urged the Rodrigo Duterte government to conduct “independent, full, and transparent” investigations to ensure accountability for rights violations and abuses in the Philippines.
In a resolution Wednesday (Philippine time), the UNHRC also condemned all “acts of intimidation and reprisal, both online and offline” against human rights groups and other critics.”
In its 45th General Session from September 14 to October 7, the Council took note of the scathing report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) last June 4 detailing the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs that has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.
The new resolution recommended that OHCHR and Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet assist the Philippines in its “fulfillment of its international human rights obligations and commitments” through:
- technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability measures
- data gathering on alleged police violations, engagement with civil society
- national mechanism for reporting and follow-up
- counter-terrorism legislation
- and human rights-based approaches to drug control.
The resolution was sponsored by the Philippine government itself, along with fellow member-States India and Nepal, as well as non-members Hungary, Thailand, Turkey and Iceland.
‘Human rights crisis’
A human rights alliance said the latest UNHRC resolution indicates that the international community has acknowledged the human rights crisis in the Philippines and persists in its scrutiny of the Duterte government.
The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) said the resolution is proof that the Duterte administration, despite its belligerent stance and statements in past HRC sessions, has also started to acknowledge “domestic and international pressure for justice and accountability” for its reported human rights violations.
“The resolution comes after the damning report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the persistent and widespread killings and human rights violations in the Philippines, the numerous statements of UN Special Procedures expressing concern on the situation, the European Parliament resolution calling on the European Commission to initiate the temporary withdrawal of trade perks of the Philippines in the light of the serious rights violations, and the proposed measure at the US Congress to end military and police aid to the Philippine government,” EcuVoice said in a statement.
EcuVoice led the filing of dozens of reports of human rights violations by the Duterte government at the HRC’s 43rd General Session in Geneva, Switzerland last February and March that became part of Bachelet’s report recommending investigations to be conducted in the Philippines.
Human rights group Karapatan said the new resolution is “a sign that the international community remains committed in closely monitoring the situation of human rights in the country.”
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, however, expressed disappointment that the new resolution “looks over the urgent demands of victims, their families and communities” for in-country probes.
“[I]t (the resolution) falls short of a decisive and adequate response to the worsening human rights crisis in the country — and we strongly believe that technical cooperation and capacity-building activities would not stop the administration’s human rights violations,” Palabay said.
Karapatan challenged the Duterte government to allow access to UN investigators if it has nothing to hide in line with Bachelet’s original recommendation.
It also urged governments, parliaments, civil society groups, and international non-governmental organizations to conduct independent investigations to validate the real human rights situation in the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
A day after Congress passed a new version of the Philippine anti-terrorism measure, the United Nations (UN) released a scathing report detailing widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity under the Rodrigo Duterte government.
In a 26-page report Thursday, June 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.
Persistent impunity and formidable barriers to accessing justice need to be urgently addressed, the report said, also raising alarms over possible human rights violations by the prospective Human Security Act of 2020 that has been generating massive opposition among civil society groups since its passage by the House of Representatives Wednesday, June 3.
The report noted that many of the documented human rights concerns are long-standing but have become more acute in recent years.
“This has been manifested particularly starkly in the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects. Numerous human rights defenders have also been killed over the past five years,” the UN said.
The report said that the human rights violations brought about by the government’s focus on security threats are also reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high level officials.
The report also noted that the anti-drug killings range from “at least 8,663” to possibly triple the number.
The UN Human Rights Office also documented the work-related killing of at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists between 2015 and 2019.
There has been near impunity for these killings, with only one conviction for the killing of a drug suspect in a police operation since mid-2016, the report stated.
In gathering the report, the UN said it interviewed witnesses, family members, journalists and lawyers who expressed fears over their safety and a sense of powerlessness in the search for justice, resulting in a situation where “the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable.”
Killings encouraged by highest officials
The UN Human Rights Office said it examined key policy documents relating to the campaign against illegal drugs and found a troubling lack of due process protections, and the use of language calling for “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects.
“Such ill-defined and ominous language, coupled with repeated verbal encouragement by the highest level of State officials to use lethal force, may have emboldened police to treat the circular as permission to kill,” the report stated.
Police raids on private households were routinely carried out without warrants, and post-operational spot reports examined by the Office indicated that evidence may have been falsified.
“Police repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations,” suggesting some victims were unarmed at the time of their killing, the report revealed.
It added that human rights defenders have also been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment in a manner that “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”
Red-tagging as weapon
The report also identified “red-tagging” – labelling individuals or groups (including human rights defenders and NGOs) as communists or terrorists – as posing a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression, noting that, in some cases, those who have been red-tagged were subsequently killed.
“Human rights advocacy is routinely equated with insurgency and the focus diverted to discrediting the messengers rather than examining the substance of the message,” the report said.
“This has muddied the space for debate, disagreement and for challenging State institutions and policies,” it added.
In the report, the UN Human Rights Office also detailed ongoing threats to freedom of expression, with legal charges and prosecutions being brought against journalists and senior politicians critical of the government, as well as actions to shut down media outlets.
The report also examined human rights violations in Mindanao and Negros Island, which have seen increased militarization through Duterte’s imposition of emergency measures.
“The effect of this militarization – coupled with the long-standing presence of armed groups and the pressure by powerful landed elites and large business projects – is particularly dire on already embattled indigenous and farming communities,” the report said.
The UN said there are concerns that counter-insurgency policies have given rise to patterns resembling “those that characterize the anti-illegal drugs campaign, notably a presumption of guilt and lack of due process or effective oversight – this time against those suspected of supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (CPP and NPA).”
The report also said it received unverified complaints against NPA killings, abductions, recruitment of children and extortion by the New People’s Army (NPA), a charge repeatedly denied by the Communist guerrillas.
On to the UN Human Rights Council
The UN said there is a failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability for the violations thus far, hence the need for independent, impartial, credible investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The Duterte government refused requests by the UNHCHR to conduct in-country investigations since the UN Human Rights Council passed the Iceland-sponsored resolution in July 2019 asking for an investigation on the killings connected with Duterte government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
The UNHCHR said its report is based on 893 written submissions, substantial input from the Government of the Philippines, analysis of legislation, police reports, court documents, videos, photos and other open source material, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.
The report is due to be discussed at the next UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.
‘A damming rebuff’
The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) welcomed the UN Human Rights Office report, saying it highlights the practice of vilification, criminalization and elimination of free expression, democratic dissent and the continuing vicious attacks against civilians.
Ecuvoice said the facts and reality are undeniable and the report has practically rebuffed the Duterte administration of its false narrative and pretensions about human rights.
Ecuvoice sent a delegation to Geneva last February and March to participated in the UN HRC’s 43rd general session.
“It is a damning indictment of its non-compliance with principles, standards, instruments and conventions on human rights. The government must shape up and should seriously rethink its draconian approaches like institutionalizing opportunities for even more widespread violations through dubious “anti-terror” legislation, national security policies and those related to its bloody anti-narcotics campaign, the group said.
“We look forward to further concrete action and specific recommendations and resolutions when the report is taken up by the UNHR Council,” Ecuvoice said.
“We also hope this report is also taken into account and consideration by the International Criminal Court as well as the UN Human Rights Committee with its upcoming review on the Philippines,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
(Disclosure: The reporter, himself a victim of vilification and harassment, was part of the Ecuvoice delegation to the UN HRC’s 43rd General Session last February-March session in Geneva, Switzerland.)
By Visayas Today
Two Filipinas who lost young sons to the bloody war on drugs being waged by President Rodrigo Duterte believe their hopes for justice received a major boost after letters they wrote seeking the help of Pope Francis were received by the pontiff’s aides in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, October 9.
Marissa Lazaro, who lost her 20-year old son Chris in 2017, and Katherine Bautista, who found her 21-year old stepson John Jezreel in a Manila morgue days after he went missing in January 2017, were in Rome as part of the post-performance talk of the play “Tao Po” (Is Anybody There?), a four-part monologue by cultural activist Mae Paner, who portrays characters from the murderous campaign that human rights groups say may have claimed upwards of 30,000 lives since mid-2016, when Rodrigo Duterte became president.
The play is making the rounds of six European cities, including Rome, which hosts thousands of migrant Filipino workers and where supporters of Duterte have mounted a campaign to boycott the performance.
The two mothers are involved with Rise Up for Life and Rights, a faith-based support group for families of victims of extrajudicial killings that has filed a complaint against Duterte before the International Criminal Court.
This week, Rise Up, supported by the National Union of People’s Lawyers filed a petition asking the ICC to admit more evidence against Duterte.
In response to the ICC’s opening of a preliminary examination into the allegations, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the Court, which maintains it retains jurisdiction over complaints filed while the country was still a member.
Bautista and Lazaro had to maneuver through the crush of thousands of people who filled St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s general audience.
In a message to reporters on social media, Lazaro said: “Nag-abot ang paningin namin ni Pope. Saya-saya ko kasi nung abutin nung mama yung sulat, ko pakiramdam ko nakarating sa kanya ang mensahe para sa hustisya sa anak ko.”
(The Pope and I locked gazes. I was so happy when an aide accepted my letter, I felt certain my message asking justice for my son had reached him.)
Bautista, on the other hand, said she wept: “Naiyak ako. Iba pakiramdam ng saya na sa Roma ko pa nakita ang Papa. Paulit-ulit akong nagsabi ng, ‘Please get this’! Kaya nung kinuha ang sulat ko nakaramdam ako ng pag-asa hindi lang para sa stepson kundi para sa lahat ng biktima ng walang habas na pagpaslang sa Pilipinas.”
(I cried. It’s a different joy you feel seeing the Pope in Rome. I repeatedly said, ‘Please get this!’ Which is why when my letter was received I felt hope not only for my stepson but for all the victims of the indiscriminate killings in the Philippines.)
Even before the Tao Po team arrived, Duterte supporters have been hounding Philippine human rights advocates who have brought the campaign against the war on drugs to Europe, including the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In Iceland, which Duterte vilified for spearheading a resolution seeking an investigation into the war on drugs and its massive death toll, Lazaro was hounded by supporters of the president who interrupted her account at a forum of her son’s death and accused her of “dramatizing” her story. #
by Visayas Today
Ricky Serenio, the self-confessed drug syndicate bagman who blew the whistle on persons, including policemen and politicians, he claimed were on the take from the illegal trade, was ambushed and killed in Bacolod City Saturday afternoon, August 31.
Two wounded suspects were arrested soon after following a brief chase by police.
Serenio, who was on his way home to Pulupandan town south of Bacolod, had just turned onto the highway after picking up a friend in a subdivision when he was attacked by the motorcycle-riding killers.
He was rushed to the nearby Bacolod South Hospital but was declared dead on arrival from at least five gunshot wounds.
A passing police patrol chased the gunmen, resulting in a multi-vehicular accident. The suspects then tried to flee on foot.
They were identified as Joemar Dumip-ig, 30, of Barangay 14 in Bacolod, and Allan Bustamante, also 30, of Barangay Mabuhay 2 in Toboso town. Both had gunshot wounds in the leg and were taken to the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital for treatment.
Serenio gained notoriety when, shortly after his arrest in Talisay City in January 2017, he admitted being the “bagman” of the Berya drug syndicate, which operates in Western Visayas, and then started naming law enforcers, judges, politicians and even media practitioners he claimed received protection money from his gang.
Soon after, in April of the same year, Serenio’s brother Wilmar was gunned down. The next month, his father Wilfredo was also shot dead outside their home in Barangay Singcang-Airport.
Before Serenio was killed, a younger brother said he visited their home and had lunch there. #
Filipino migrants asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCRC) to look into extrajudicial killings in the country, accusing the Rodrigo Duterte government of committing “gross human rights violations committed against Filipino migrants.”
Migrante International submitted its Global Petition of Filipino Migrants UNHCRC Tuesday in support to the call of 11 UN Special Rapporteurs for an independent investigation into the increasing rights violations in the Philippines.
Migrante cited government neglect of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and the rampant extrajudicial killings in the country in its petition, also posted on the online petition platform change.org since last week.
Filipino migrants and families are not spared from extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by government forces, the group said.
Migrante recalled the killing of 17-year old Kian delos Santos in August 2017 by police operatives who collared the youngster, dragged him across a dark alley and summarily killed. The victim was the son of a Saudi-based domestic worker.
In August 2018, Manila police officers mugged OFW Allan Rafael and detained him until he died under police custody.
Rafael, a cancer patient, was arrested by the police on suspicion of being a drug addict based on his pale appearance, his family alleges. He was undergoing chemotherapy when accosted by the police.
Migrante’s petition likewise accused the government of sending cheap Filipino labor abroad instead of creating enough domestic jobs to end forced migration.
“Through the Duterte regime’s labor export program, the government has been imposing unjust state exactions as its way of subjecting OFWs to legalized robbery. A Filipino migrant worker already wallows in debt even before she is deployed overseas and whenever they get mistreated abroad, they are often left neglected or coerced by government agencies to keep silent and relinquish their demands for justice,” Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said.
In its petition, Migrante also cited the case of 81 Filipino migrants currently on death rows as well as the numerous cases of unsolved deaths and detention of migrant Filipinos abroad.
The Philippine government is facing mounting international pressure on widespread reports of continuing extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.
Last Thursday, Iceland issued a draft resolution signed by 28 UN-member states asking the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to impose concrete actions on the killings.
Members of the Philippines’ official delegation to the 41st UNHRC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland reportedly walked out of the meeting in protest to suggestions that an official and impartial investigation be conducted in the Philippines.
Varied estimates from 6,000 to 30,000 victims killed have been reported by local and international groups.
“My only sin are the extrajudicial killings,” Duterte confessed at a gathering in the Presidential palace in September 2018.
In a speech in Malacañan last Monday, Duterte also said he prefers to be tried on his human rights record than being accused of corruption.
“Well, extrajudicial killing is ok but not corruption,” Duterte said during the oath-taking of government officials at the Palace.
Human rights groups said that Duterte’s admissions add weight to the preliminary investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court last year.
“We demand an end to the violation of our collective human rights and hold the Duterte government accountable. We urgently plead with the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed by the Philippine Duterte government,” Migrante’s petition said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Media groups cautioned journalists and editors against publishing Malacañan’s list of public officials allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade.
In a joint statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; Philippine Press Institute; Center for Community Journalism and Development; Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Mindanews and the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network said that both the government and the media can not play fast and loose with due process and rule of law.
The groups said that, without verification, the publication of the so-called narco-politicians list including 82 candidates in the May elections is a denial of due process and presumption of innocence for those on the list.
The groups added that the hasty publication of the list is a violation of the journalistic values of fairness, accuracy, and independence.
“Instead of rushing to print or air, we now urge all our colleagues to exercise utter prudence and fastidious judgment in evaluating this ‘story,’” the groups said.
The media organizations said publication of the government’s list redounds to mere trial by publicity of political rivals, and a publicity stunt for the public and the news media’s transient amusement without convincing proof or cases filed in the courts.
“Such naming and shaming calls attention to the possible invasion of privacy, as well as denial of due process and presumption of innocence, for those on the list,” the groups explained.
“Once published or broadcast, the travesty will be magnified as a collective disregard for the rule of law, and a clear breach of the time-honored traditions of fair, accurate, and independent journalism, by the news media,” they explained.
Duterte’s list, based on still to be verified intelligence reports and wiretapped information received from foreign governments, reportedly includes 82 candidates.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino, however, said he is against the release of the list, adding that his agency has yet to re-validate it.
“As of now, there is an instruction for PDEA to disclose list. [But] I can’t do it right now because we have not finished the re-validation of the narco-politicians,” Aquino said.
Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez also said the government must “convict first” before those on the list could be disqualified as candidates.
The media groups urged the National Bureau of Investigation to validate the list’s contents before the authorities could build cases and file the appropriate charges against the alleged narco-politicians.
“Rather than seek publicity for its unverified ‘narco list’ story, the Duterte Administration should waste no time to build cases, file charges, prosecute, and send to jail the guilty, if indeed it had proof and evidence on hand,” the media groups said.
‘Verify, verify, verify’
The media groups said publishing Duterte’s list may open news outfits to libel suits should those named choose to file charges as Panelo suggested.
They said that taking Malacañan’s word at face value, reporting its claims uncritically, and rushing to print or broadcast just a list that tags people without proof are not without serious consequences.
“All these could put the life and liberty of persons in serious peril; all these could put the ethics and credibility of the journalism profession in serious doubt,” they said.
“Verify, verify, verify. And do so independently. That is the first thing that the news media can and should do, before running a list that tags and links people to hateful crimes, on the mere say-so of the President and his political lieutenants,” they added.
“We, journalists and media organizations can, at the very least, refuse to play along when the government and those who are supposed to lead the nation play fast and loose with due process and the rule of law,” the groups said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, along with other media organizations, launched the ‘Sign Against the Sign’ campaign on Friday, urging Congress to repeal the law that includes journalists among the possible witnesses in anti-drug operations.
Journalists and industry leaders signed a manifesto calling for an end to the practice of making journalists witnesses to drug-bust operations, which has put a number of them in danger.
NUJP Chairperson Nonoy Espina explained that media groups have consistenly opposed this practice when it was made a requirement under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
While the law has since been amended by Republic Act No. 10640, enacted in 2014, Espina said media colleagues especially those from the provinces have reported that law enforcement units continue to require them to become witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover operations.
Espina noted that as a result of this, some joirnalist have found themselves at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates.
“One of our colleages from Zamboanga del Norte has been receiving death threats from an accused drug dealer because she testified as witness in the operation. She didnt’ even want her name to be revealed because of fear. This has to stop,” Espina said.
He added that another journalist from the Visayas who regularly signed on as witness to drug inventories found himself included in a drug watchlist.
Aside from the issue of physical safety, the practice also exposes journalists to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations.
Espina said that while journalists can decline to serve as witnesses, they risk being isolated from their police sources or even normal channels of information.
“To ensure that this practice is ended once and for all, we urge Congress to craft legislation or amend the existing law,” Espina said.
The group plans to dialogue with Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and lawmakers to discuss the proposed legislation.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) launched an online petition asking that journalists be spared from acting as witnesses in the government’s so-called anti-drug war.
In its petition on change.org, the NUJP called on law enforcement units to immediately end the practice of requiring journalists to sign as witnesses to the inventory of contraband and other items seized during anti-drug operations.
“Our opposition to this practice stems from the fact that it unnecessarily places journalists at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates, on the one hand, and also exposes them to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations,” the NUJP said.
Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, requires witnesses to these anti-drug operations from a representative of the Department of Justice, the media, and an elected public official.
The law was subsequently amended by Republic Act No. 10640, enacted in 2014, which made witnessing optional between a representative of the National Prosecution Service and the media.
NUJP however reported that law enforcement units continue requiring media workers to sign on as witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover operations.
“Worse, there are reports that they are made to sign even if they did not actually witness the operation or the inventory of seized items. Those who decline can find their sources or the normal channels of information no longer accessible,” NUJP said.
The group urged Congress to further amend the law to completely free journalists from the practice.
NUJP said it is willing to dialogue with the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Congress to discuss guidelines, ground rules and other procedural issues concerning coverage of their operations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)