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Quit call for cops with drug ties may aid impunity

PHILIPPINE STAR/ JOHN UNSON

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE GOVERNMENT of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should enforce the law and prosecute top generals with illegal drug links instead of asking them to quit, human rights experts said at the weekend.

“Courtesy resignations will not solve anything,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said in a Viber message. “Those involved in drugs within the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) ranks should be investigated, publicly identified and prosecuted.”

National police chief Rodolfo Azurin, Jr. on Thursday quit his job after Interior and Local Government Secretary chief Benjamin “Benhur” C. Abalos, Jr. urged top cops to resign and help cleanse their ranks of the “deep infection” of the illegal drug trade.

“We in the uniformed service are trained and prepared and are expected to prioritize public service over public interest,” he separately told a news briefing streamed live on Facebook. He said he expects most colonels and generals to heed the quit call.

He said he would allow himself to be evaluated and assessed by a committee created by the president to determine if he was in any way involved in the illegal drug trade, or if he had been tolerating rogue cops.

He said his resignation would be considered an application for his retirement, adding that he supports the Interior chief’s call to “rid the PNP of misfits and scalawags.”

Mr. Marcos last week said the Interior secretary’s call was part of his plan to solve the country’s illegal drug problem.

“We have to identify who’s really involved and who are the cops who cannot render police service because they are associated with drug lords,” he told a press briefing streamed live on Facebook.

Police spokesperson Jean S. Fajardo on Saturday denied there was a destabilization plot by the Armed Forces of the Philippines after top police officials resigned last week.

Fides M. Lim, a human rights advocate and convenor of the political prisoner group Kapatid, said the quit call would probably foster impunity.

“Name names, suspend and investigate the top law enforcers who have become the most notorious lawbreakers,” she said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Mr. Abalos on Wednesday said filing cases against ranking police officers would take too long and delay accountability.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla in November vowed to prosecute more top-level police officers responsible for drug war killings. 

He said he wanted to extend the Witness Protection Program to police officers who are willing to testify on extralegal killings committed under the anti-illegal drug campaign.

At least 25 policemen have been charged with murder in connection with Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, Mr. Remulla told the UN Human Rights Council in November. An inter-agency task force on extralegal killings had investigated at least 17,000 cops.

Data released by the Philippine government in June 2021 showed that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

“Instead of enforcing the law, Mr. Abalos is in fact aggravating impunity by protecting these top hoodlums in uniform who are made to tender courtesy resignations while 12,000 to 30,000 victims of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s failed drug war still cry out for justice.”

Mr. Abalos earlier said those who submit courtesy resignations could continue working while their records were assessed by the committee. The resignation of those found questionable would be accepted.

“If you’re not involved, there’s nothing to worry about,” he told a news briefing, adding  that those who refuse to quit were deemed “questionable.” “This is the only way to cleanse the ranks in  a fast manner.”

“It’s difficult to fight a war when it’s your ally that will shoot you in the back,” Mr. Abalos said.

He said law enforcers had seized about P10 billion worth of illegal drugs in 24,000 drug operations last  year. About 30,000 drug suspects were arrested in the first 100 days of Mr. Marcos.

Police had killed 46 drug suspects during illegal drug operations under the new administration, Mr.  Azurin, who was appointed police chief in August, said in November.

Mr. Marcos told police in August to temper their use of force while enforcing the law. Mr. Abalos said in July the drug war would be “as intensive as before.”

The Philippines accepted more than 200 recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council in November, investigating extralegal killings during its deadly drug war.

More than 30 member-states of the UN body urged the Marcos administration to do something about the extralegal killings and rights abuses in its anti-illegal drug campaign.

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