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‘How many were not filmed?’: Calls to end police brutality renewed after cop killed mother and son in Tarlac

By Catalina Ricci S. Madarang – December 21, 2020, Philstar.com/Interaksyon

Calls to end police brutality dominated conversations online on Monday after a cop was caught in a viral video killing an unarmed mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac.

Police officer later identified as Senior Master Sergeant  Jonel Nuezca on Sunday shot 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son, Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, over an altercation regarding the latter’s use of “boga,” an improvised noisemaker used during the holidays in the Philippines.

Nuezca, who was reportedly assigned to the Parañaque City Crime laboratory, surrendered at the Rosales Pangasinan Municipal Police Station an hour after the incident.

He also turned over his PNP-issued 9mm semi-auto pistol that was used in the crime.

In an interview with GMA News’ “Unang Balita,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Noriel Rombaoa, chief of the Paniqui Police, said that the suspect went to the victims’ houses to confront them.

“Pumunta yung police sa bahay ng biktima at nagkaroon ng pagtatalo, naungkat ang matagal na nilang alitan sa right-of-way,” he said.

Nuezca refused to say anything except he regrets shooting the two victims, Rombaoa added. He also stated that the former will face a double murder complaint from the local police.

Data from Police Regional Office III chief Police Brigadier General Val de Leon showed that Nuezca had faced grave misconduct or homicide cases in May and December last year. However, these cases were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Nuezca had faced grave misconduct (homicide) cases in May and December 2019. Both, however, were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Stop the killings

Several hashtags and the phrase “My father is a policeman”
dominated the top five spots on Twitter Philippines’ trending list on Monday as concerned Filipinos and human rights advocates called to end police brutality in the Philippines.

The phrase was uttered by the daughter of Nuezca during the altercation between the victims and her policeman father, seconds before the Gregorios were shot dead.

Nuezca’s daughter also received backlash online for this remark. Twitter user @lakwatsarah, said that the daughter might have been raised to believe that her father is above the law.

“She was probably raised to believe he can shoot anyone who messes with them. He shot them. He made that choice. The daughter is a victim of his parenting,” she said.

Aside from this phrase, the hashtags in the local Twitter’s top trending list as of writing are:

  1. #StopTheKillingsPH with over 670,000 tweets
  2. #JusticeforSonyaGregoria with over 360,000 tweets
  3. #EndPoliceBrutality with over 286,000 tweets
  4. #Pulisangterorista with over 191,000 tweets

The calls for justice for Sonya and Frank Gregorio were also launched on Facebook.

Progressive groups such as the League of Filipino Students and Gabriela Youth issued separate statements that denounced Nuezca’s brutal act and other cases of abuse and killings in the Philippines.

‘How many were not filmed?’

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that the shooting incident in Paniqui is an “isolated incident.” He also said that “the sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police.”

“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our PNP personnel perform their sworn duties everyday with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people,” Año said.

Writers Emiliana Kampilan or “Dead Balagtas” and Alfonso Manalastas, however, noted the possible deaths at the hands of the police and the military that were not caught on camera.

Bar 2019 topnotcher Kenneth Manuel echoed the similar view and questioned if there were more underreported victims.

“Minsan mapapaisip ka na lang, ilan na kaya nakitil nito pero hindi lang naibalita? Mas mapapaisip ka, ilan kaya sa kanila ang kayang pumatay ng ganito?” Manuel wrote.

Several concerned Filipinos also questioned this possibility, while citing that drug suspects were killed before because they allegedly fought back or “nanlaban” but there were no videos to prove them.

Detained Sen. Leila De Lima in 2018 called out the government and former presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for using the “nanlaban” narrative.

“I cannot allow Panelo to continue to poison the public’s mind with the Duterte administration’s oft-repeated but flawed proposition that the increasing number of deaths due to the crackdown on drugs was because suspected drug offenders have all resisted police arrest with violence,” she said in December 2018.

Meanwhile, others lamented the Christmas bonuses police officers received despite the reported brutality.

“Tapos mas mataas ang bonus ng mga pulis kaysa health workers?” he said.

Not the first time

Data from World Population Review showed that in 2020, the Philippines ranked third among the countries with the highest cases of police killings wherein 3,451 people were killed or a rate of 322 victims per 10 million people.

In a September report from US-based Human Rights Watch, citing government data, the PNP killed 50% more people between April and July of this year despite the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

HRW noted that this figure is only for deaths in police anti-drug operations.

Last June, the rising cases of police abuse in the Philippines which happened before and during the pandemic were juxtaposed to the killings perpetrated by the police in the United States.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis triggered a nationwide campaign for equal rights for all people of color.

RELATED: ‘I can’t breathe!,’ ‘Tama na po’: Police brutality in US, Philippines juxtaposed

Duterte’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ remarks

Some Filipinos blamed such rogue activities among PNP members on President Rodrigo Duterte’s continuous “shoot-to-kill” remarks since he took office in 2016.

In a televised address aired last December 16, Duterte denied ordering the police to “shoot to kill” civilians.

“May mga pulis na talagang may ano sa — diretso salvage ganoon. Wala akong inutos na ganoon. Remember, in all of my utterances, ang galit ko ‘yan when I say, ‘Do not destroy my country, the Republic of the Philippines, who elected me as President. Do not destroy our sons and daughters because I will kill you.’ Sabi ko — hindi ko sinabi, ‘They impede, they will kill you.’ The military will… I said, ‘I will kill you,’” the said.

“Pero sabi ko, ito, ‘Go out and destroy the apparatus.’ Iyan. Pagka nagkabarilan diyan in destroying the apparatus, goodbye ka. Kaya sabi ko, ‘Ako, I take full responsibility for my order.’ ‘But remember,’ I said, ‘enforce the law in accordance with what you have learned then self-defense.’ Defense of ano ‘yan. Stranger kung kasama mo. In law it’s called a stranger, maski kilala mo. Defense of relative,” he also said.

‘Walk the talk’

Amid the outrage on Nuezca’s brutal act both Paniqui Police chief Rombaoa and PNP chief Police General Major Debold Sinas reminded their colleagues to observe “maximum tolerance.”

“Sa mga kasamahan po natin sa pulisya, dapat self-control kasi nga maximum tolerance tayo, tayo ang may armas. Kung merong umaagrabiyado sa atin merong right forum po riyan, pwede nating kasuhan, not to the point na gagamitin natin ang baril natin,” Rombaoa was quoted as saying.“Lagi nating tandaan ang ating sinumpaang tungkulin bilang tagapagpatupad ng batas. We should walk the talk in the PNP,” Sinas said. #

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JULY 23: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content.) Two women cry in grief after armed assailants in a motorcycle shot their loved one in a main thoroughfare on July 23, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. The victim was an alleged drug peddler a claim disputed by his wife and maintained her husband is nothing more than a pedicab driver plying his trade when he was shot in front of her. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a war on crime and drugs after winning the presidential elections on May 9, 2016. President Duterte has recently been living up to his nickname, 'The Punisher', as Philippine police have been conducting night time drug raids on almost a daily basis. With reports of at least 300 drug related deaths since the start of July, Human rights groups and the Catholic church have objected to the use of brutal force by the Police. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

July 20, 2020/

By L.S. Mendizabal

Kodao Productions

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

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References:

Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

Carpio doubts Marcos paid penalties imposed by court over tax case

By: Marlon Ramos – Reporter / Philippine Daily Inquirer /November 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Did former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. just admit his failure to comply with his court sentence?

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio raised this question on Tuesday as he noted that Marcos’ camp did not mention if he had satisfied the court’s order for him to settle his tax deficiencies in his answer to the petition opposing his presidential bid in the Commission on Elections.

Instead, the son and namesake of dictator Ferdinand Marcos merely argued that the disqualification case against him should be tossed out since the 1997 ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) did not find him guilty of committing a crime involving moral turpitude.

The appellate court’s decision upheld the earlier ruling of a Quezon City court in 1995 that found the younger Marcos guilty of nonpayment of taxes and failure to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985 when he was vice governor and later, governor of Ilocos Norte.

The decision became final and executory in 2001 after he withdrew his appeal in the Supreme Court.

“In his answer, Marcos did not state that he paid the fine and deficiency taxes imposed by the CA,” Carpio told the Inquirer.

“I think [he] did not pay the fine and deficiency income taxes as ordered by the final and executory CA decision,” he added.

Carpio said this could be the reason why Marcos’ counsels, headed by veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza, did not argue that the petition against him should be junked since he had already served his sentence with the payment of the tax dues and penalties.

Whimsical war

Philippine Daily Inquirer /November 23, 2021

The collective reaction to President Duterte’s “blind item” about an allegedly cocaine-using presidential candidate was twofold: first, speculation (and for many, quick conclusion) about who he was alluding to; and second, a question — how come he was revealing this bit of information only now, and the alleged user has not been investigated or charged under his administration’s relentless drug war?

The President has never been shy about brandishing the names of so-called narco-politicians and other purported suspects in public. He has released three such “narco lists’’ in the past years; none of the May 2022 presidential candidates was in any of those lists.

The answer to the question might be found in the other clues provided by the President: This candidate came from a “wealthy family,” and had a well-known father.

The President was clearly aiming to demolish one of the leading rivals of his anointed successor, but in doing so, he also brought out the ugly truth of his administration’s yawning double standard when it comes to the targets of the drug war.

On the one hand, there are the thousands killed since 2016 (8,663 in official records), most of them from destitute communities and whose killings were routinely palmed off by the police as the result of the suspects allegedly having fought it out with the authorities (“nanlaban”). The United Nations Human Rights Office, in its June 2020 report on human rights violations in the country, also documented how police arrested victims without warrants and recovered guns that bore the same serial number from different victims in different locations, indicating the widespread planting of evidence.

On the other hand, there are startling cases of special treatment, like the drug raid last Nov. 6 on a private party held at a beach resort in Mabini town in Davao de Oro province where party drugs and other illegal substances were found to be overflowing. Among those present at the event was Jefry Tupas, the chief information officer of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. Tupas claimed she and her boyfriend had left before police and agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) raided the party, but witnesses said she was among those apprehended. Tupas, according to her fellow partygoers, then whipped out her trump card: “Sir, I am a staff of Inday Sara,” she told the PDEA agents. “What is happening here, Sir?”

The city official was forthwith released without charges. After the raid, Tupas was “terminated’’ from her city hall job. (Tupas was a correspondent for the Inquirer from 2003 to 2015 before resigning to serve as Mayor Sara Duterte’s chief information officer.)

What was made clear by the Davao de Oro party incident was not only that illegal drugs proliferate in the President’s own turf and under the noses of its officials, but also that the well-connected who end up as drug suspects can be untouchable, treated by the police with the lightest of hands.

The whimsical, arbitrary nature of the drug war appears to have likewise slanted the case against Julian Ongpin, son of billionaire business tycoon Roberto Ongpin.

Ongpin was charged with possessing 12 grams of cocaine following the mysterious death of his companion, visual artist Bree Jonson, in a hostel room in La Union on Sept. 18. But a court in La Union last week dismissed the charges over police mishandling of evidence. The court ruled that the police failed to properly mark the sachets supposedly containing the cocaine, thus allowing for the possibility of evidence-tampering. The court also noted that Ongpin was not in the hostel room when the police seized the drugs.

The police and prosecutors had bungled the job early on, when they decided not to immediately arrest Ongpin despite what they claimed was his possession of cocaine, which made the case non-bailable. He was also not charged for the death of Jonson, whom his side said, and the police quickly determined, was a suicide despite the Jonson family’s protests.

The bitter perception that there are different rules for the poor and the rich under the drug war was acknowledged by the President himself at one point. “Why the poor?,” he wondered aloud during an event in Cagayan de Oro on Oct. 20, 2017. “Why are there so many deaths, not the rich? My God, I am telling you, the market of shabu is the poor community.”

But moneyed Filipinos? They use pricier drugs like cocaine and heroin, said Mr. Duterte. “The millionaires, they do shabu in yachts or they go to the airport to do cocaine or heroin. But heroin and cocaine are derivatives of the poppy. It’s not as damaging to the brain.”

From that haphazard rationale has come haphazard justice: High-profile suspects, even those belatedly fingered by Mr. Duterte as indulging in cocaine use, have it easy, while poor and powerless Filipinos turn up as dead, brutalized bodies on desolate streets.

Total COVID deaths in Europe could exceed 2.2 million by March -WHO

Reuters – GENEVA, Nov 23 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday a further 700,000 people could die from COVID-19 in Europe by March, taking the total to above 2.2 million, as it urged people to get vaccinated and to have booster shots.

Total cumulative deaths from the respiratory disease in the 53 countries of the WHO’s European region have already surpassed 1.5 million, it said, with the daily rate doubling from late September to 4,200 a day.

The WHO’s European region also includes Russia and other former Soviet republics as well as Turkey.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” it said, adding that COVID-19 is now the top regional cause of death.

High or extreme stress on intensive care units (ICU) is expected in 49 out of 53 countries by March 1, the WHO added.

France, Spain and Hungary were among those countries expected to experience extreme stress in ICU usage in early 2022, according to the data cited by the WHO Europe.

The Netherlands started transporting COVID-19 patients across the border to Germany on Tuesday as pressure rises on hospitals and infections jump to record levels. Austria began its fourth lockdown on Monday. read more

The WHO said a high number of unvaccinated people as well as “reduced vaccine-induced protection” were among the factors stoking high transmission in Europe alongside the dominance of the Delta variant and the relaxation of hygiene measures.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge urged people to get vaccinated and also to get a booster dose “if offered”.

WHO officials in the Geneva headquarters have previously advised against COVID-19 vaccine boosters until more people around the world have received primary doses. WHO officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether this represented a change in official guidance.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” said Kluge.

Reporting by Emma Farge Editing by Gareth Jones

ICC asks PH gov’t to show proof it is investigating drug war killings

By: Cathrine Gonzales – Reporter / INQUIRER.net /November 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor said on Tuesday that it will ask the Philippine government for “tangible evidence” of its investigations on alleged crimes against humanity under the Duterte administration’s controversial drug war.

In a statement Tuesday, the ICC said pursuant to Rule 53 of its Rules of Procedure and Evidence, Prosecutor Karim Khan will, in the coming days, request the Philippine government to provide information regarding its investigations and proceedings on its anti-drug campaign.

“The Office of the Prosecutor takes the view that a State requesting deferral under article 18(2) of the Rome Statute must provide information concerning its investigations to support its request,” the statement read.

“Such information must consist of tangible evidence, of probative value and a sufficient degree of specificity, demonstrating that concrete and progressive investigative steps have been or are currently being undertaken to ascertain the responsibility of persons for alleged conduct falling within the scope of the authorized ICC investigation,” it added.

Following a request from the Philippines, the Office of the Prosecutor earlier notified the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber of the suspension of its investigation on alleged crimes against humanity in the country. The ICC earlier said it has suspended the probe while assessing the scope and effect of the deferral request.

The Office of the Prosecutor also noted that a deferral “may have a specific or partial effect, rather than a blanket or general effect, on its investigation.”

“Information on national investigations and proceedings therefore informs the Office’s assessment of the precise parameters of any deferral. Additionally, any domestic proceedings must be conducted genuinely as required by the Statute,” its statement read.

“These principles and approach help to ensure a proper balance between the application of the principle of complementarity, fundamental to the Rome Statute, and the Office of the Prosecutor’s ability to discharge, in an efficient and effective way, the responsibilities that the Rome Statute has placed upon it,” it added.

Khan, meanwhile, welcomed the “willingness” of the Philippine government to engage with the Office of the Prosecutor.

“The effective implementation of the Rome Statute is a responsibility shared between the ICC and States, including State Parties to the Rome Statute and other States where the ICC has jurisdiction, such as the Philippines,” the ICC statement noted.

While waiting for additional information from the Philippine government, the Office of the Prosecutor also vowed to be attentive to the security and well-being of victims and witnesses of alleged crimes against humanity under the drug war.

Protests

The Prosecutor’s pronouncements came amid protests on the ICC’s deferral of the probe, with relatives of people killed in President Duterte’s war on drugs accusing the government of attempting to evade accountability.

The ICC, which in September approved an investigation into Duterte’s war on drugs in which thousands of people have died, on Saturday temporarily suspended the probe at Manila’s request.

“I am gripped by anger. I almost threw my cellphone when I read the news,” said Normita Lopez, 57, whose son died in the anti-drugs campaign, her voice cracking with emotion.

“They are obviously scared of being investigated” she said.

Governments can ask the ICC to defer a case if they are implementing their own investigations. However, the ICC may only exercise jurisdiction “where national legal systems fail to do so, which is certainly not the case in the Philippines,” the ambassador to the Hague, Netherlands told the ICC in its letter.

A few weeks after ICC judges approved its probe, the Philippines said it had reviewed 50 cases that indicated foul play.

Still, Kristina Conti, who represents Lopez and other relatives of victims, expects the ICC to resume its probe.

“Our bet is that the ICC will determine the investigation is not genuine,” Conti told Reuters.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he had encouraged the victims’ families to file complaints directly with the department and make use of a witness protection program.

The release of details of the 50 drug war deaths marked a rare admission by the state that abuses may have taken place.

“Why is the government only doing this now? Is it because they were rattled by the ICC?,” asked Llore Pasco, 67, whose two sons were killed in the crackdown. “They should have started investigating soon as the killings began in 2016.”

Since Duterte unleashed his drug war, security forces say more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed because they fought back violently. Rights groups say authorities summarily executed them.

Among those killed was high-school student Kian delos Santos, whose death in 2017 led to the first convictions of police officers in the drug war, and featured in a report by a former ICC prosecutor.

“The families look at the ICC as a source of hope,” said delos Santos’ uncle, Randy. — with reports from Reuters

US data group: Civilian-targeting by PH gov’t in war on drugs rising

By: Tony S. Bergonia -INQUIRER.net /November 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The direct role of the Philippine government in civilian-targeting in its bloody campaign against drugs has escalated since 2020, and the bloodshed has no signs of subsiding, according to a US data analysis group.

“The Philippine state has taken an increasingly large role in targeting civilians itself, no longer trying to create distance by ‘outsourcing’ the majority of violence to vigilantes,” said the report by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a US-registered nonprofit organization that analyzes information and data on conflicts and violence worldwide.

“Since 2020, there has been an upward trend in the proportion of state involvement in drug war violence,” ACLED said in the report devoted to the ongoing campaign against drugs by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

After studying and analyzing data and information from at least 40 sources, ACLED said it also found that the drug war’s toll on civilians in the Philippines had been underreported.

“Our new data clearly indicate that the government is severely undercounting the drug war’s toll on civilians in the Philippines,” said Dr. Roudabesh Kishi, ACLED director of research and innovation, in an e-mail exchange with INQUIRER.net.

The ACLED report found at least 1,100 fatalities in the anti-drug campaign that the government has not counted. “We now estimate at least 7,742 civilians have been killed in the drug war since 2016,” the report said.

It said analysis of the data showed that the actual civilian death toll in the campaign against drugs was 25 percent higher than the government’s count “even by a conservative estimate.”

“The government admits that over 6,000 killings have occurred during police operations in association with the drug war,” said ACLED.

“These figures exclude ‘vigilante’ killings by non-state actors, however, which played a significant role, especially in the early days of the drug war, in targeting civilians,” ACLED said in its report.

“There are clear ties between anti-drug vigilantes and the state,” said the report. “At minimum, such actors are supporters of Duterte and his drug policies, carrying out attacks inspired by Duterte’s rhetoric.”

“In other cases, the ties between these agents and the state have been more direct, with perpetrators relying on police to secure the perimeter in the lead-up to attacks,” ACLED said.

While the government keeps a death toll, it has done little to hold police officers accountable for killing civilians. “Many officers have already been absolved of any wrongdoing during internal police investigations,” ACLED added.

An e-mail seeking Malacañang reaction sent by INQUIRER.net to the office of Palace spokesperson Secretary Karlo Nograles, who took the place of resigned spokesperson Harry Roque, was acknowledged as received but contained no reply to the ACLED findings.

According to ACLED, its data analyses and research reports are among the key documents being examined by the International Criminal Court in the case filed against Philippine officials in connection with alleged unlawful killings during the campaign against drugs.

“Alongside a range of other key sources, ACLED data and analysis were cited extensively by the ICC in its request for an investigation into potential crimes against humanity during anti-drug operations in the country earlier this year,” said Kishi, referring to the International Criminal Court.

The latest ACLED report, released last Nov. 18, said it found three key new developments in the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines.

“First, while the overall rate of violence has declined since the height of the drug war in 2016, deadly attacks have continued throughout 2021, with hundreds of civilian fatalities,” said the report.

“Second, state forces, especially [the] police, have taken an even larger role in violence targeting civilians over the course of the drug war,” it said.

The report noted that, although anti-drug vigilantes were largely responsible for a great deal of violence against civilians during the initial months of the war on drugs, “majority of civilian targeting in recent years has been carried out directly by state forces.”

ACLED’s 2016 report estimated that 48 percent of violence committed against civilians during the war on drugs was committed by vigilantes. But in 2021, at least 80 percent of the violence was committed by government agents, the report said.

“The shift appears to be driven by increased scrutiny on vigilantes by the media and the international community, including the ICC,” said ACLED.

Direct targeting of civilians by state forces was partly a result of other fronts in armed conflict against terrorists and communists, according to ACLED.

In the war on drugs, the national police leadership continued to play a leading role, according to the report.

“The official police chain of command allows the government to continue prosecuting the war on drugs while retaining greater oversight of the actors involved—especially against the backdrop of an ICC investigation,” ACLED said.

This was in contrast with the employment of “loosely organized vigilante groups that may prove more unpredictable and difficult to control,” it said.

About a month before he retired as Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Guillermo Eleazar said he respected the decision of relatives of civilians killed in the war on drugs to file a complaint at ICC.

But he said ICC involvement may not be necessary as “the Philippine justice system works.”

“Proof of this is the conviction of the policemen for the killing of Kian Delos Santos and several other court decisions which have caused the dismissal and imprisonment of other PNP personnel,” Eleazar said in September, more than a month before he left the police force and decided to run for senator under the Lacson-Sotto ticket.

According to ACLED, the third key development in Duterte’s war on drugs was the shift in the geography of the violence.

ACLED said the highest concentration of violence and killings has shifted from the National Capital Region, the country’s economic hub, to Central Luzon, particularly Nueva Ecija, which “is now home to the most drug-war related violence in the country.”

It said 14 percent of cases of drug campaign-related violence took place in Nueva Ecija. At least 13 percent of drug war fatalities were recorded in the province. More than 14 percent of civilian deaths connected with the anti-drug campaign were also recorded in Nueva Ecija.

Nueva Ecija, ACLED said, surpassed Bulacan and Metro Manila in cases of violence and civilian deaths related to the anti-drug campaign “to become the new epicenter of the war.”

“While the reasons for this shift to Nueva Ecija are not yet clear, the broader shift to Central Luzon appears at least in part linked to the transfer of top police officials from the National Capital Region,” ACLED said.

“These officials have continued to be rewarded and incentivized by the Duterte administration even as violence has surged under their command,” it said.

Duterte has repeatedly defended his campaign against drugs, claiming that those protesting what they perceive as human rights violations are unwilling to see how drug abuse is harming the Philippines.

A complaint has been filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing Duterte and his officials of crimes against humanity in carrying out the campaign against drugs.

The ICC has agreed to investigate but also suspended action upon the request of the Philippine government.

Nograles said while the government reached out to ICC to suspend action, it was “not waiving its position regarding ICC’s lack of jurisdiction.”

“We trust that the matter will be resolved in favor of the exoneration of our government and the recognition of the vibrancy of our justice system,” Nograles said.

Philippine officials point to an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as proof there was no impunity, which would justify an investigation by ICC or the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR).

Although the DOJ had completed a review of 52 civilian killings during police anti-drug operations and concluded that 154 police officers could be held liable, ACLED said its analysis found that civilian killings attributable to the state and its agents were “much higher than the official figures suggest.”

“This marks a rare admission by the Philippine state that it may be complicit in abuses stemming from the war on drugs—which continues to rage on,” said ACLED.

The data analysis group said confusion over thousands of other deaths that could be related to the campaign against drugs is preventing a closer look at those killings and was partly caused by the use by police of the term “death under investigation” or DUI.

The complaint filed at ICC cites up to 30,000 killings in the Philippines’ war on drugs, many of which had been tagged as DUI and could not be immediately listed as killings directly related to Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

However, the lack of transparency by the Philippine government is blocking independent investigations into the campaign against drugs, said ACLED.

“Independent monitoring and data collection [are] critical to ensure that investigative bodies like the ICC have reliable information to support their work and hold perpetrators of abuses accountable,” it said.



3,000 tsinelas protest

Human rights activists in the US displayed “tsinelas” across Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to protest the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

They called the US Congress to block US security assistance to the Philippines and to stop funding the Philippine police and military.According to the International Coalition for Human Rights, each pair represented 10 killings in the country to account for the 30,000 killings under the Duterte administration.

The “tsinelas action” was organized by the Communications Workers of America, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), Malaya Movement USA and the Kabataan Alliance. (from Altermidya)

Anti-disinfo coalition calls on Facebook to strengthen election safeguards

Nov 17, 2021, Loreben Tuquero

MANILA, Philippines

The newly-launched Movement Against Disinformation will not focus on individual posts but on the platforms that allow them to be disseminated

A newly-launched coalition against disinformation called on Facebook to implement a “more robust approach” to moderating election-related disinformation, in line with the upcoming Philippine national elections in 2022. 

The Movement Against Disinformation, launched on Wednesday, November 17, is composed of lawyers, members of the academe, civil society groups, local and international non-government organizations, and other advocacy groups. 

For its first initiative, the Movement Against Disinformation published an open letter to Facebook with a list of demands regarding transparency on election-related policies, identification and flagging of impostor pages or groups, monitoring violations from authentic accounts, mandatory labeling for political personalities, boosting authoritative news, and maintaining open communication channels, among others.

The coalition believes Facebook’s current measures fail to address its continued reliance on algorithms that, “due to their contextual blindness, tend to amplify and reward the most inflammatory content, including disinformation.”

“You have a significant role in ensuring clean and fair elections in the Philippines in 2022. Please do not allow Facebook to be used, exploited, and weaponized against our democracy again. The Filipino people – your most active users – deserve better,” the letter read.

Lead convenor and Rappler board member Antonio La Viña said one of the objectives of the nonpartisan coalition is to “expose enablers and propagators where we have proof.” However, they will prioritize engaging social media platforms.

“Our focus will not be on individual posts, on individual persons. That’s actually a waste of time and that’s really the one that could violate freedom of expression. Our focus will be on the platforms that allow them to be disseminated,” La Viña said.

He said they would want to establish both formal and informal channels with online platforms in order to course concerns and resolve them. 

“Given the nature of the consortium where we have a lot of legal groups, a lot of lawyers, a lot of colleges of law and academics, the priority is the engagement with the platforms and get the platforms to adopt protective measures against disinformation,” he said.

Facebook – which has changed its company name to Meta – is the first platform the coalition is addressing because it is the one most used by Filipinos. But La Viña said they would eventually “cover all the different social media platforms” one at a time.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted in September 2021 showed that nearly half or 48% of Filipino adults get their political news from the internet, with 44% of them citing Facebook.

La Viña said the coalition also wants to build capacity on spotting and identifying disinformation, and are hoping to supplement, not duplicate, the work of media organizations that conduct fact-checking.

The coalition’s members include the following: 

  • Philippine Bar Association
  • Philippine Chapter-New York Bar Association
  • Lyceum of the Philippines University
  • Ateneo de Naga
  • Ateneo de Davao
  • Xavier University 
  • Alternative Law Groups
  • Ateneo Human Rights Center
  • SALIGAN
  • Karapatan 
  • iDefend
  • Wiki Society of the Philippines
  • Pinoy Media Center
  • Foundation for Media Alternatives
  • Ateneo Sanggunian
  • Members of the faculty of Ateneo Law

Convenor Rico Domingo, president of the Philippine Bar Association, said they would also try to coordinate with the Commission on Elections in monitoring disinformation. – Rappler.com

Int’l rights group urges ICC to proceed with ‘drug war’ probe

Philstar.com, November 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A global human rights coalition on Sunday morning called on the International Criminal Court to “proceed without delay” with its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs”.

In a statement sent to media, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines said that the ICC’s decision to temporarily suspend its investigation “rewards Duterte and further victimizes those who gave evidence in support of ICC probe.”

The ICC said it would suspend investigative activities for the time being “while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request” filed by Manila.

The Philippine government filed the deferral request on November 10, pointing to its own investigations into “drug war” killings. The Palace has said that the government’s request does not concede jurisdiction to the ICC.

“In accordance with the principle of complementarity under which the Court operates, the Philippine government has the first responsibility and right to prosecute international crimes,” the government said in a letter to ICC prosecutor Karim Khan. 

“The Court may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fails to do so, which certainly is not the case in the Philippines… the domestic institutions in the Philippines are fully functional and more than adequate to address the issues and concerns raised,” it also said.

The Philippines has maintained this position amid concerns of human rights violations in the “drug war.”

“The Prosecutor found credible evidence that crimes against humanity had occurred. Any suspension or delay is an absolute betrayal of those brave individuals who came forward at great personal risk to provide evidence and testimony regarding these alleged crimes,” ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy said. 

READ: CHR: ‘Drug war’ review report credibility may suffer if done ‘in the shadows’

In its November 10 request to the ICC, the Duterte government claimed it had already begun its own review of 52 cases where police killed suspects during anti-drug operations.

The 52 cases are among 6,100 deaths acknowledged by official police data. Rights groups say as many as 30,000 may have died in the course of the “drug war”.

This, while the newly-minted chief of the national police appointed by Duterte himself has promised continuity in what he said would be the “finale” of the administration’s bloody war on drugs. 

“ICHRP has full confidence in the impartiality of the ICC. We reiterate that the ICC should heed the call of these families to fully investigate the Duterte administration for these crimes against humanity so that, finally, justice may be served and impunity ended,” Murphy said.

Rights group points to ‘failure of domestic remedies’

The ICHRP in its statement also pointed to the findings of global investigating panel Investigate PH which found that Philippine courts had managed to convict two police officers for the 2017 murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos – one case in the 6,011 officially recorded up to the end of 2020.

“The findings of the First and Second Reports of the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (Investigate PH) clearly showed the flaws and failure of the domestic remedies now claimed to be operating,” said Murphy.

PNP chiefs routinely bring up the singular conviction of Kian Delos Santos’ cop-killers as proof that the justice system is working for the families of victims searching for justice. 

But Murphy also pointed out that the case only succeeded because the Barangay Captain had failed to switch off the CCTV which recorded the police abduction of Kian.

READ: PNP says 2018 conviction of Kian’s murderers proof that ‘domestic remedies work’

Investigate PH also dispelled the Philippine government claims that the thousands of victims of the war on drugs were killed by police in self-defense or the popular “nanlaban” (fought back) narrative. 

In its report, the panel presented forensic evidence to the ICC of victims with defensive wounds, of victims who had been bound before being killed or others taking bullets to the back.

“There are probably over 30,000 cases of these police killings in anti-drug operations, based on statistics of “Deaths Under Investigation”. And now the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency no longer reports deaths in anti-drug operations, on their Real Numbers PH webpage.”

The Philippine government now tells the international community that its domestic remedies are working. When the Investigate PH reports came out, though, Duterte’s appointed officials were quick to dismiss it as “malicious” and “uninformed.”

“This kind of review – of 5,655 cases – was first promised by the Secretary of Justice to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020,” said Murphy.

READ: Abuse in ‘drug war’ routinely covered up, advocates say

In February 2021 Secretary Guevarra reported that just 328 cases had been reviewed, revealing no proper crime scene investigation in more than half the cases.

In May 2021, he reported that the PNP had given access to files on 61 cases, but by June 1, 2021, the police had cut this number to 53 and eventually 52. 

ICHRP pointed out that this figure represented “well below 1 percent of deaths in police anti-drug operations.”

“There is no way that this level of inquiry – most unlikely to be genuine – amounts to an investigation of the crime against humanity of murder which the ICC was investigating,” said Murphy.

“The ICC needs to re-start its investigation of all the evidence it has before it and give justice to the tens of thousands of Filipinos murdered at President Duterte’s repeated incitement.”

Franco Luna with a report from Bella Perez-Rubio