POLICE spot reports are brief but succinct narratives that hold vital information on a crime or incident. The reports are written by police who were present at the scene. In his interview last week with Rappler editor-at-large Marites Danguilan Vitug, Magdalo party-list representative Gary Alejano confirmed that his office had obtained 1,500 spot reports on the killings of drug suspects in police operations. Could these reports really prove, as Alejano asserts, that extrajudicial killings, or EJKs, are state policy under President Rodrigo Duterte?
Police spot reports are public documents that should be freely available to any investigating body. Yet, as Vitug pointed out during the interview, neither the Supreme, nor the Senate, nor the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, has managed to get hold of them. Alejano somehow got lucky. His office submitted a motion during one of the House committee hearings on police discipline, and in what was probably an unguarded moment, the PNP obeyed the request and turned over 1,500 spot reports to Alejano. These comprise just 26 percent of the total 3,967 “nanlaban,” or “fought back,” cases, Alejano explained.
The majority of them only cover police operations in Region III, the Central Luzon area, and Region IV, Southern Luzon, including Romblon, Mindoro and Palawan. Moreover, being standardized pro-forma documents, he warns, they may not all be entirely accurate. Even with these caveats, clear commonalities and patterns emerge.
First, the police operations occur at night, from 6 p.m. to midnight, then from midnight to 6 a.m.
Second, the victims are overwhelmingly young, impoverished men.
Third, one or two sachets containing a few grams of shabu, crystal meth, are usually found on the victim.
Four, a .38 caliber pistol, unmarked, or with a defaced serial number, is found on the victim.
Five, the number of killings skyrocketed soon after President Duterte’s election. In the months following, killings occurring under police operations fell, while vigilante killings rose.
Six, not a single case has been filed against a drug suspect.
“There is a public policy,” Alejano concludes, “of encouraging, condoning, inciting, instigating, not only by the police and military, but the whole population, to kill drug suspects.”
Police spot reports, he makes clear, are part of a larger mosaic of evidence composed of information gathered from disparate sources—the Commission on Human Rights, local NGOs who have been assiduously documenting killings in their communities, Church and legal groups, reports by local and international mass media, the photographs taken by foreign and Filipino photojournalists, and President Duterte’s own murderous pronouncements.
The hope is, once pieced together, this mass of evidence may eventually prove that extrajudicial killings are state-sanctioned, and thus convince the International Criminal Court at The Hague to pursue a full-blown investigation in the Philippines.
No doubt about it. Alejano shone brightly in that interview. He was called by Vitug “a rising star, perhaps.” It’s an enormous compliment from a brilliant journalist who has written on corruption, the judiciary and terrorism in the Philippines for almost three decades. The modifier she appends, ‘perhaps,’ is typical Vitug circumspection.
Whether Alejano persuaded or not is another matter. He has a legion of detractors, some of whom, it must be said, are not quite right in the head. He had one point to make: the police are killing their own countrymen. In today’s Banana Republic of the Philippines, where the principle of accountability is fast being rendered inoperative, and democratic institutions are just as swiftly undergoing a process of liquefaction, it is hard to doubt his argument.
Still unconvinced? O.K., then, just listen to the police, who are now, quite readily, telling all.
In January 2017, a 26-page document titled “Special Report: The state- sponsored extrajudicial killings in the Philippines” surfaced. Written anonymously by two intelligence officers within the Philippine National Police (PNP), and claiming to draw on insider sources and citing active and retired PNP officers, the report sought to “present inside information” on how EJKs were carried out and funded, “including the operational system used in managing the killings.” Further, the authors made the even more incendiary claim that the drug war was part of Duterte’s broader campaign of “social cleansing,” with the goal of eradicating the country’s poor.
In a Reuters special report published on April 18, 2017, the intelligence officers who authored the document were interviewed on condition of anonymity. They staunchly stood by their words and categorically stated that it was the police who orchestrated the killings. By that time, 9,000 people had been killed.
In February 2017, Amnesty International produced a report stating that police were being paid up to P15,000 for killing drug suspects. Malacañang’s line of defense was to issue denials. “The extrajudicial deaths are not state-sanctioned,” said then presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella. The drug campaign, he insisted, was being carried out “properly and within legal processes.”
Other pro-administration mouthpieces dutifully followed suit. Take for example Bruce Rivera, the cross-dressing lawyer who filed an impeachment complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo in May 2017. In a TV interview with Solita Collas Monsod, on her program “Bawal Ang Pasaway,” which aired on April 11, Rivera shrugged off the tidal wave of killings that had occurred since Duterte assumed the presidency. Only 2,300 people had been killed, he said, and besides, he went on, there had always been “bodies in the streets.”
Mocha Uson was also a guest at the interview. She was then still enjoying her brief stint as a board member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), but was already the President’s chief social media propagandist, albeit in an unofficial capacity. Not only did Uson bluntly deny EJKs were taking place, she dismissed the work of photojournalists whose pictures of the murders were being published in newspapers all over the world.
Before the close of 2017, the Duterte administration published their yearend report. A shift in stance could be discerned. The directive had changed. Rather than continue to deny the role of the police in EJKs, the government decided to crow about them.
In his Senate privilege speech delivered on February 21 of this year, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, quoting the breast-thumping verbiage on page 22 of the report, under a subsection titled “Fighting Illegal Drugs,” the deaths of 20,322 people were categorized under the general heading “Key Accomplishments” of the Duterte administration.
The numbers and time frames are startling. Drug suspects who had allegedly resisted arrest, the “nanlaban” or “fought back” victims, those the police were compelled to kill under police operations, constituted 3,967 killings from July 1, 2016 to November 27, 2017. Homicides under investigation, spanning the period from July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017, were at an incredible 16,322 cases. These are official government figures.
I had always considered government achievements to be in the realm of, say, reducing the numbers of malnourished children. Or fixing broken public transportation systems. Or innovating to stop climate change. In Duterte’s Banana Republic, the drug war has left over 20,000 people dead. It is as if a virulent epidemic has swept through the country. This puts a whole new spin on what the Duterte government understands as an “accomplishment.”