Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete. (File photo)

MANILA – The government is working substantively and diligently in eliminating the illegal drug menace while at the same time upholding the protection of human rights, a Department of Justice (DOJ) official said on Thursday.

“We reiterate that drug enforcement operations can be reconciled with Human Rights and Human Rights advocacy work. The constitution of the review panel is towards that reconciliation,” DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

At present, he said, the DOJ is evaluating 900 cases handled by state prosecutors in the National Capital Region and Central Luzon.

“So far, about 30 cases against law enforcement personnel are pending in court. Each case has anywhere from one to one dozen law enforcement officers charged,” Perete said, adding that several other cases are pending preliminary investigation.

He added that while challenges including the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health crisis delayed their review panel’s work, the agency would work “double time” and assured that a report would be released soon.

In June, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council that the country’s institutions ensure that the government’s responses to the challenges facing the country, including drugs, corruption, terrorism, and crimes, are within the bounds of the law and are in full respect for human rights.

Speaking during the 44th UN Human Rights Council’s Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Philippines, Guevarra said “claims that there is impunity or near-impunity in the country find no anchor in a system that provides every avenue to examine, establish and pursue a claim of wrongdoing by a State actor if such claim is substantiated with facts”.

He informed the Geneva-based body that the Department of Justice heads a review panel that is conducting a judicious review of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred.

The Philippine National Police, he said, is obliged by its internal mechanisms to conduct motu proprio investigations — whether or not there are complainants — on all law enforcement operations that result in deaths, and take action on this basis.

This review mechanism led by the DOJ is external to the PNP and is tasked with re-evaluating each of these cases and undertake re-investigate or file appropriate charges as warranted.

The panel engages affected families and provides them with legal options and assistance in the criminal prosecution of law enforcers who have overstepped legal bounds in their operations. It will present a report on its work by the end of November of this year.

The review mechanism reinforces accountability on the drug campaign and tightens the web of existing mechanisms to prevent cases of impunity in the country, such as the AO 35 inter-agency body that monitor and pursue cases of extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances and torture.

He said #RealNumbersPH is a monitoring platform that has ensured public transparency and full accountability in the ant-illegal drug campaign since 2016.

The platform accounts for and publishes evidence-based outcomes of the campaign across 42,046 villages across the country, as well as figures on law enforcement actions and drug-related cases in the courts. (PNA)