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‘Criminals not human,’ says Philippine Justice Secretary

Shadowy killings persist after police quit drugs war

MANILA: Photo shows a body of an alleged drug user on the ground after unidentified gunmen shot him dead in Manila. —AFP

MANILA: The Philippine justice secretary yesterday brushed aside accusations that police killings of thousands of drug suspects may be crimes against humanity, stating criminals were not human. Amnesty International earlier in the day accused police of murdering defenseless people or paying others to kill as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, and said the deaths may amount to crimes against humanity.

“The criminals, the drug lords, drug pushers, they are not humanity. They are not humanity,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre told reporters when asked to comment on the Amnesty report. “In other words, how can that be when your war is only against those drug lords, drug addicts, drug pushers. You consider them humanity? I do not.”

Among a litany of alleged crimes, Amnesty accused police of shooting dead defenseless people, fabricating evidence, paying assassins to murder drug addicts and stealing from those they killed or the victims’ relatives. It also said police were being paid by their superiors to kill, and documented victims as young as eight years old. “The police are behaving like the criminal underworld that they are supposed to be enforcing the law against,” the report said. Police have reported killing 2,555 people since Duterte took office seven months ago and immediately launched his war on crime, while nearly 4,000 others have died in unexplained circumstances, according to official figures.

Duterte has repeatedly made comments echoing similar sentiments to Aquirre’s, urging police to kill drug users as well as traffickers. “Crime against humanity? In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you: are they humans? What is your definition of a human being” Duterte said in August last year referring to drug offenders. “Human rights? Use it properly in the right context if you have the brains.” The next month Duterte said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts, and likened his campaign to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s efforts to exterminate Jews in Europe.

However the Philippine National Police and the presidential office issued statements yesterday rejecting many of the assertions in the Amnesty report. “The PNP has always observed and upheld respect for human rights,” a police statement said. National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa also rejected accusations that the police officers were getting secret bonuses for killing alleged drug offenders. He insisted only two percent of the police force was corrupt.

Killings persist in Manila
A young man’s body lay in a pool of blood, surrounded by bullet casings. A loved one rushed to the scene in the dark, rundown Manila neighborhood and howled in anguish as onlookers huddled behind a police cordon. It’s a scene that has been replayed thousands of times in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs over the past seven months.
But this was on Tuesday night, a day after Philippine police were ordered to halt anti-drugs operations that have left more than 2,500 people dead in what police say are shootouts. Thousands of users and small-time dealers have also been killed outside of the police anti-drugs missions. Human rights groups say many are by assassins paid by police, or are police themselves. Police deny involvement in extra-judicial killings.

Aldrin de Guzman, 24, was gunned down outside his home before midnight on Tuesday in circumstances all-too-familiar for the dwellers of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods. Another man was shot and killed in a crumbling shophouse not too far away, at around the same time. Mystery gunmen on a motorcycle shot de Guzman repeatedly, according to police, following the same pattern as thousands of other vigilante-style killings of drug dealers and users. De Guzman’s mother, Elisa, said her son had no enemies, but had used drugs in the past. “That’s a long time ago. If the person is already reforming, they still do this?” she said, tears building in her eyes.

“They should stop all these shootings… many are caught in between, just like my son. They should stop claiming lives.” No witnesses saw the killers. The attack bore the same hallmarks as many of the other killings over the past seven months activists believe are carried out by hit men working in cahoots with police, or by officers in plain clothes. The Philippine National Police (PNP) has said allegations that hit men were on the police payroll “are obviously not the norm” and the PNP was making “significant breakthroughs” in investigations into killings.

Killing in a shophouse
Duterte has suspended drugs operations to allow a purge of corrupt police following the kidnapping and killing of a South Korean businessmen by counter-narcotics officers. He has handed over charge of the anti-drugs campaign to the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency, a body a fraction of the size of the national police. A report by Amnesty International on Wednesday said its investigation showed drugs killings were “systematic, planned and organized”, and police had even received money for murders and for delivering bodies to funeral homes.

Not far from the where Guzman’s body lay for hours on Tuesday night, crowds gathered next to crumbling buildings along a narrow, poorly-lit alley where another killing took place. Police stood by, some playing on their smartphones, awaiting the arrival of a funeral home vehicle to take away the corpse of an unidentified man killed around the same time. Witnesses said he was chased by gunmen onto the second floor of a shophouse before the shots were fired. They did not know who pulled the trigger.- Agencies

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