July 08, 2019

Amnesty identifies new killing field in Philippines drugs war ahead of key UN vote
Human rights group Amnesty International has identified a new “killing field” in the Philippines ahead of a United Nations vote this week on a mandate to investigate deaths during the country’s brutal three-year drugs war.  Thousands of suspected drug dealers and users have been gunned down by masked assassins or by the police since Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president, instigated a violent crackdown when he came into office in 2016.  He recently indicated that the second half of his term will be deadlier.  The new Amnesty report, ‘They just kill: Ongoing extrajudicial executions and other violations in the Philippines’ war on drugs’, claims that extrajudicial killings by the police remain rampant. Investigators hope it will provide crucial evidence to nudge the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva towards passing a resolution that would initiate a year-long investigation in the Philippines by UN special rapporteurs. The vote is expected to take place on Thursday.    The “scale of abuses reaches the threshold of crimes against humanity,” claims Amnesty, alleging that the police have operated with total impunity as they murder people from poor neighbourhoods whose names have appeared on manufactured “drug watch lists” with no legal basis.  Kateleen Myca Ulpina, 3, was killed in a police sting operation last month Credit: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images The Philippine government has acknowledged at least 6,600 killings carried out by the police. However, evidence suggests that thousands more have been fatally shot by masked assassins, often driving in tandem on a motorbike.  Amnesty reports that the country’s “bloodiest killing field” has shifted from the capital region to Bulacan province, in Central Luzon, seven miles north of Manila.  The investigation identified 20 cases in which 27 people were killed between May 2018 and April this year. After interviewing 58 people, including witnesses, relatives and officials, the human rights group concluded that many of the deaths appeared to be extrajudicial killings.  In one case, police claimed Jovan Magtanong, 30, and a father of three children, was killed after he fired at them first. They alleged they had found a .38 calibre gun and sachets of illegal drugs at the scene.  However, witnesses said he was sleeping alongside his children when officers knocked on his house door asking for another man. His family said he did not even own a gun and had not used drugs for over a year. “They killed him like an animal,” said one relative.  “It is not safe to be poor in President Duterte’s Philippines,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia.  President Rodrigo Duterte instigated the drugs war three years ago Credit: Albert Alcain/PPD “All it takes to be murdered is an unproven accusation that someone uses, buys, or sells drugs. Everywhere we went to investigate drug-related killings ordinary people were terrified. Fear has now spread deep into the social fabric of society.” In every police operation examined by Amnesty, police cited the same “buy-bust” justification of an undercover drug sting where suspects were armed and fought back “prompting” the use of lethal force.  Rachel Chhoa-Howard, an Amnesty researcher who helped to compile the report, told The Telegraph that the violations followed a now routine pattern. “They are carried out in the total absence of accountability, and a climate of continued incitement from the president,” she said.  “Families spoke to us about their desperation in terms of their inability to obtain justice for loved ones, enormous obstacles to filing cases, extreme difficulty in obtaining police autopsy reports and a pervasive climate of fear of reprisals and retaliation if they did try to probe further,” she said.  The police accused Kateleen Myca's father of using her as a human shield, which her mother denied Credit: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images Ms Chhoa-Howard added: “We are concerned that the failure of the international community to act has sent a clear message to the Duterte administration that it’s free to continue this campaign with impunity.” Human rights groups are in Geneva this week to lobby member states to approve the UNHRC resolution. Meanwhile, Philippine officials are attempting to block it, with President Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, calling the resolution an interference, claiming that other nations may have been misled by “false news”. Human Rights Watch has focused its own campaign on the plight of children who have suffered emotional, psychological and economic impacts of drug war violence, especially those who have lost their parents.  Last week a country now accustomed to frequent drugs war deaths was rattled once again by the shooting of three-year-old Kateleen Myka Ulpina during a sting operation. The police claimed her father used her as a human shield in an account vehemently rejected by her mother.  Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a former police chief who once led the anti-drugs operation, further incensed public opinion by his callous response.  “Would a police officer want to shoot a child? Never, because they have children as well. But s--t happens during operations,” he said.



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