A wave of extrajudicial killings by police and the vigilantes they work with may amount to crimes against humanity, Amnesty said. More than 7,000 people have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte, nicknamed “the punisher”, unleashed a bloody crackdown seven months ago.
Amnesty investigated 33 incidents of drug-related killings in 20 cities and towns across the country in which 59 people were killed.
“The vast majority of these killings appear to have been extrajudicial executions – that is, unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by government order or with its complicity or acquiescence,” the report said.
It accused police of planting evidence and fabricating official incident reports to suggest they acted in self-defence.
When killings were carried out during formal law enforcement operations, police incident reports appeared to be “startlingly similar”, alleging the suspect tried to pull a gun, Amnesty said. In several cases, police said the suspect’s gun malfunctioned when trying to shoot at officers.
But Amnesty cited what it said was direct witness testimony suggesting “police officers routinely bust down doors in the middle of the night and then kill in cold blood unarmed people suspected of using or selling drugs”. Witnesses described alleged drug offenders yelling that they would surrender, sometimes on their knees.
Since Duterte came to office seven months ago, thousands of suspected low-level pedlars but also alleged drug users have been gunned down in his war on drugs.
The Guardian has been unable to corroborate all the allegations in the report, released on Wednesday, and Duterte has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
However, the report adds to a growing body of evidence collected by rights groups and journalists illustrating how the police have used extrajudicial killings and worked with armed gangs.
The Guardian last year cited a senior police officer who claimed he led one of 10 special operations teams tasked with killing suspected drug users and dealers while making their deaths appear to have been caused by vigilantes. The report was later denied by the chief of police.
The Amnesty report goes further, suggesting the war on drugs has created an “informal economy of death” in which police profit from the bloodshed.
In one case in Cebu City, a witness told Amnesty that a drug user called Gener Rondina had his home surrounded by a large contingent of police officers. “The police kept pounding [and] when they go in he was shouting, ‘I will surrender, I will surrender, sir’,” an unnamed witness told Amnesty.
The police reportedly ordered Rondina to lie down on the floor as they told another person in the room to leave. Witnesses then heard gunshots and the man’s body was brought out.
Family members said they found valuables including a laptop, watch and money were missing and were not returned or accounted for by police in the official inventory of the scene.
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, said that under Duterte’s rule, “the national police are breaking laws they are supposed to uphold while profiting from the murder of impoverished people”.
She added: “The same streets Duterte vowed to rid of crime are now filled with bodies of people illegally killed by his own police.”
Amnesty accused the police of behaving like the criminal underworld by “contracting out” killings.
Amnesty’s researcher spoke to two people said to be paid killers, who take orders from a police officer who pays them 5,000 pesos ($100) for each drug user killed and 10,000 to 15,000 pesos for each alleged drug dealer killed. More than 4,100 of the drug-related killings in the Philippines have been carried out by unknown armed individuals.
A senior police officer who has served in the force for a decade and conducts operations as part of an anti-illegal drugs unit in Metro Manila described to Amnesty how the police are also paid, between 8,000 pesos and 15,000 pesos, per “encounter”.
“We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters … There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything,” the unnamed officer was quoted as saying.
The officer told Amnesty some police have established a racket with funeral homes, who pay them for each dead body sent their way. Families are expected to pay funeral costs for those killed in law enforcement operations.
“Sometimes if I’m the investigator, I’ll bring the body to the biggest and most expensive [funeral home], because they give the biggest cuts.”
Amnesty said information the officer provided was corroborated independently and the report cited families of victims who complained that the bodies were taken to particularly expensive funeral homes, even if there were cheaper options nearby.
Duterte said during his election campaign that fighting crime and narcotics was his priority, promising to eradicate illicit drugs within six months.
On Sunday, he promised to continue the crackdown until the end of his six-year presidency, and criticism would not dissuade him. “I do not give a shit, I have a duty to do, and I will do it,” he said.
His announcement came even after the Philippines police said it would disband anti-drugs units following the killing of a South Korean businessman by rogue officers, an incident Duterte said he was “embarrassed” by. The police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, said the anti-drugs units would be rebuilt.
Corrupt police should be reassigned to work in conflict zones, Duterte has said, and the government has claimed it investigates unlawful killings. However, there have been no reports of officers being dismissed from the force for misconduct since Duterte took office.
Author: Oliver Holmes