MANILA – Malacañang disagreed with the Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) statement that the newly formed inter-agency panel that would investigate more than 5,600 deaths in the administration’s war on drugs is “a ruse to shield the country from international scrutiny.”

In a virtual presser on Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the act of creating a panel is not a “new” phenomenon and is usually done by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to investigate alleged human rights violations.

“Wala pong katotohanan ‘yan dahil alam ninyo po, maski wala po yung inter-agency na ‘yan, nasa manual po ng PNP pag merong namatay, talagang nag-iimbestiga po kung bakit nagkaroon ng patayan sa isang police operation (There is no truth to that because even without the inter-agency body, it is in the PNP manual to investigate deaths in police operations),” Roque said.

The creation of the panel was announced by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 30.

“So lahat po ng kaso (na) ‘yan, 5,000 plus, naimbestigahan po ‘yan isa-isa at ito naman pong pagbubuo ng inter-agency, hindi naman po bago ‘yan (So all those 5,000 plus deaths have been investigated one by one and the creation of an inter-agency panel is not new),” he said.

According to Roque, the inter-agency panel chaired by Guevarra was created to supplement what is already being done by law enforcement authorities.

He said panels to investigate drug war deaths and other violations were already being created when he was first appointed as the presidential spokesperson in 2017.

“Nung ako po’y una pang Spox, diyan po nagsimula ‘yan. At nung mga panahon na ‘yun, ang PNP chief ay iba pa e sinimulan na nga po ang imbentaryo at pagtitingin kung meron talagang paglabag sa batas na naganap diyan sa mga patayan na ‘yan at pinagpapatuloy po ‘yan ng (Department of Justice) ngayon sa pamamagitan nitong inter-agency (When I was Spox for the first time, that is when it started. During that time, the PNP had a different chief but they already started checking if there really were violations in the killings. The DOJ is now continuing those investigations through the inter-agency panel),” Roque said.

Meanwhile, he assured anew that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte does not tolerate police abuse and will always see to it that perpetrators are punished.

“Kung hindi po mapigilan ang patayan, kinakailangan imbestigahan, litisin, parusahan ang mga pumapatay. ‘Yun naman po ang polisiya ng gobyerno (If we cannot avoid killings, they should be investigated, they should undergo trials, and those liable should be punished. That is the policy of the government),” Roque said. “Wala po tayong bibigyan ng impunity dahil hindi naiwasan ang pagpatay (We are not giving anyone impunity because the killings were not avoided).”

If there is concrete evidence for murder, charges would be leveled against the law enforcers “and that happened in the case of Kian”, he said, referring to the conviction of three Caloocan police officers for the killing of student Kian delos Santos in 2018.

On Wednesday, Roque trivialized the remark made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that the country’s laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights.

He said no country could claim a “perfect record” on human rights.

Earlier, HRW Asia Division deputy director Phil Robertson expressed doubts over the panel’s credibility, since it would be composed of the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which are in charge of the drug war.

Robertson said the creation of the panel is a “naked attempt” to discourage the Human Rights Council from starting an independent probe into drug war killings and alleged human rights violations as recommended by the UN High Commissioner. (PNA)

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