POLICE or their hired assassins were paid thousands of pesos by headquarters to kill suspects in the government’s war on drugs, an operation that amounted to crimes against humanity, London-based human rights group Amnesty International claimed on Wednesday.
In a news conference in Quezon City, the group said President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs had been tainted with human rights violations and what it claimed was the systematic killing of the poor and the defenseless. The killings had the blessings of top government officials, it claimed in a report.
“This is not a war on drugs, but a war on the poor. Often on the flimsiest of evidence, people accused of using or selling drugs are being killed for cash in an economy of murder,” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, said.
Malacañang immediately downplayed the claims.
“The extrajudicial deaths are not state-sanctioned. This is also the conclusion of the Senate’s Committees on Justice, and on Public Order and Illegal Drugs,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
Senator Panfilo Lacson also dismissed as rumor the claim that police officers were paid to kill drug suspects.
“We even conducted our own investigation on it but we did not find any proof that policemen are being paid to kill,” the senator told reporters.
Paid ‘per encounter’
Amnesty International said it spoke to a police officer with the rank of Senior Police Officer 1, who had served in the force for a decade and conducted operations as part of an anti-illegal drugs unit in Metro Manila.
The officer, it said, described how the police were paid per “encounter,” the term used to falsely present extrajudicial killings as legitimate operations.
“The amount ranges from P8,000 ($161) to P15,000 ($302)… That amount is per head. So if the operation is against four people, that’s P32,000 ($644)… We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters…There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything. It never happens that there’s a shootout and no one is killed,” the police officer said.
Two paid killers also told Amnesty International they took orders from a police officer who paid them P5,000 ($100) for each drug user killed and P10,000 to P15,000 ($200 to $300) for each “drug pusher” killed.
Police have also established a racket with funeral homes, which rewarded them for each dead body sent their way.
Amnesty International’s report claimed the police also enriched themselves by stealing from victims’ homes, including objects of sentimental value.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office seven months ago, there have been more than 7,000 drug-related killings, with the police directly killing at least 2,500 alleged drug offenders, the group noted.
‘Like a pig’
In one case in Batangas City, Amnesty International said a victim’s wife narrated how the police shot dead her husband at close range despite her pleas for mercy.
Another incident in Cebu City revealed that when Gener Rondina saw a large contingent of police officers surround his home, he appealed to them to spare his life and said he was ready to surrender.
“The police kept pounding and when they went in, he was shouting, ‘I will surrender, I will surrender, sir,’” a witness told Amnesty International.
The police ordered Rondina to lie down on the floor as they told another person in the room to leave.
Moments later, witnesses heard gunshots. The police carried the body out “like a pig” then placed it near a sewer before loading it to a vehicle. Valuables including a laptop, watch, and money went missing.
Rondina’s father, Generoso, who served in the police force for 24 years before retiring in 2009, told Amnesty International he was “ashamed” of his son’s drug use as he professed support for the government’s anti-drug efforts.
“But what they did was too much. Why kill someone who had already surrendered?” the elder Rondina was quoted as saying.
Hassan reminded the Duterte government that the Philippines is a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
In October 2016, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, expressed concern over the killings and indicated her office might initiate a preliminary examination.
with DEMPSEY REYES, CATHERINE VALENTE AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA