PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs was largely successful despite “excesses” committed by rogue cops, according to his Justice chief.
“People now feel safer in the streets even at night due to the visible reduction in drug pushing incidents,” Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told an online forum on Wednesday. “In that aspect, the campaign against drugs was fairly successful.”
“But then clearly there were excesses that have even been brought to the attention of international groups, which is why the Department of Justice (DoJ) has led a campaign to address these abuses in its implementation,” Mr. Guevarra told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, based on a video posted on Facebook.
The Justice department has faced increasing pressure from domestic and international groups to prosecute more erring cops.
Government prosecutors have filed charges in court against law enforcers in four cases and planned to probe 250 more of what could have been wrongful deaths in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs, Mr. Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council in February.
“We are very much aware of these excesses,” he told the forum. “We have a drug war committee that really investigates reports of abuse or use of unnecessary force by law enforcement agents.”
An inter-agency committee formed 15 teams last year that probed extralegal killings and human rights violations.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), which investigates and prosecutes people charged with genocide and other war crimes, had probed the country’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
Mr. Guevarra said the ICC had not targeted Mr. Duterte himself, but it wanted to find out whether crimes against humanity were committed.
Filipino lawyers have been calling on the ICC to resume its probe of the anti-drug campaign, saying the DoJ was only looking into 52 deaths out of the tens of thousands killed.
Detained Senator Leila M. de Lima, who has been in jail since 2017 on drug trafficking charges, earlier said the justice system was broken.
“No judicial system is perfect since this is a human creation,” Mr. Guevarra told the online forum. “It is prone to corruption and manipulation but our justice system works.”
The DoJ on Tuesday said it would continue prosecuting Ms. De Lima, who is one of Mr. Duterte’s most outspoken critics, even after at least four witnesses retracted their testimonies against her.
Political and human rights experts have said Ms. De Lima’s detention showed how the Philippine justice system could be easily abused.
Meanwhile, Mr. Guevarra said the country’s anti-communist task force should file complaints rather than simply labeling people as communists.
“The DoJ has been clear about its stance on red-tagging,” he said. “If you think some people are violating laws, file a case. What’s the point of labeling people?”
Incoming Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier said he would look at the results of the DoJ’s review of extralegal killings by police in the government’s war on drugs.
He also vowed to abide by the Constitution when he assumes office amid worries from various human rights groups over his history of accusing individuals of being communists.
As justice chief, Mr. Remulla will become a member of the newest anti-terror law’s Anti-Terrorism Council. He will also head a committee that investigates the killings of activists and dissenters.
The Philippine Human Rights Commission said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent inquiries and by failing to prosecute erring cops involved in the government’s anti-drug campaign. — John Victor D. Ordoñez