Members of the board of Amnesty International in the Philippines lead the presentation of the human rights group's report on the spate of drug-related killings in the country on Feb. 1. (Photo by Mike Taboy)
An investigation is being sought into an Amnesty International report that alleged Philippine police "killed and paid others to kill thousands of alleged drug offenders" in a wave of so-called extrajudicial executions in the past six months.
A resolution is being filed in the Philippine Senate to look into the "serious allegations" made by the international human rights watchdog in its report titled "If you are poor you are killed: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines' War on Drugs."
The report details how the police reportedly targeted mostly poor people across the country while planting "evidence," recruiting paid killers, stealing from the people they kill, and fabricating official incident reports.
"These are serious allegations from an international body and we should find out whether they have basis or not," said Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The senator said he wanted Amnesty International to explain the findings and present it's sources of information at a legislative inquiry. He said the investigation will also give the police a chance to present their side of the story.
Senator Escudero assured the safety and security of Amnesty International's sources and all the other witnesses who will be invited to the investigation.
"The Senate is ready to accept secret witnesses to assure their safety," he said.
Other members of the Senate have also called on Amnesty International to present proof of their report, which has been described by the senators as "too sweeping and must be supported with evidence."
The report alleged Philippine police paid killers on their payroll to kill more than a thousand people a month under the guise of a national campaign to eradicate illegal drugs.
At least 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office seven months ago. Police officials have admitted that at least 2,500 alleged drug offenders died in legitimate police operations.
The Amnesty International report claimed that its investigation documents in detail 33 cases that involved the killings of 59 people.
The report documents how police, working from unverified lists of people allegedly using or selling drugs, stormed into homes and shot dead unarmed people, including those prepared to surrender.
"The way dead bodies are treated shows how cheaply human life is regarded by the Philippines police," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's Crisis Response director.
She said the people killed were "overwhelmingly drawn from the poorest sections of society and include children."
The Philippines, a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, can be liable for "crimes against humanity" under international law for the spate of killings.
"What is happening in the Philippines is a crisis the entire world should be alarmed by," said Hassan as she called on Duterte "to order an immediate halt to all extrajudicial executions."
She warned that "if decisive action is not taken soon," the international community should turn to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to carry out a preliminary examination into the killings.
Duterte announced the suspension of the government's anti-drug war on Jan. 30 following the murder of a South Korean national businessman kidnapped and killed by anti-drug police.
A priest celebrates Mass during the wake of two victims of drug-related killings in the suburbs of Navotas in Manila. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
A Philippine bishop described the Amnesty report "really unfortunate."
"They may be true, but they certainly do not give our people a good record among the family of nations," said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa.
"But at least we are not accused of killing millions of innocent babies prior to birth," said the prelate, adding that "whether they are adults or kids, innocent or criminals, all have the right to live."
Vice President Leonora Robredo said she has received reports that bogus police anti-narcotics operations have been victimizing Chinese nationals in the country.
She said several members of the Chinese community in Manila's Binondo district have submitted evidence, including footage of "police operations" but were ignored by authorities.
Robredo warned that it is "very dangerous" to give "blanket authority" to the police without cleansing its ranks first.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre brushed aside the Amnesty International report, saying that criminals were not human and the report was false.
"How can it be when your war is only against these drug lords, drug pushers? Do you consider them humanity? No, believe me," said Aguirre.
Police spokesman, Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos, said the force "take[s] strong exception to opinions raised in the latest report."
"These [cases] are obviously not the norm, despite a higher number of police operations that have resulted [in] inevitable fatal encounters with criminal elements lately," said Carlos.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the state "does not condone extrajudicial killings perpetrated by common criminals, which have been wrongly attributed in some unvetted reports as part of police operations."
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez accused Amnesty International of interfering in Philippine internal affairs.
"We are a sovereign country. They are not the ones suffering because of all these crimes. They should not meddle because they are not the ones being affected, we are," he said.