An international human rights watchdog has accused the Philippine National Police of paying officers and assassins to kill alleged drug offenders, planting evidence and even setting up a racket with funeral homes in what it called an “informal economy of death” under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
London-based Amnesty International released on Wednesday its report on its investigation of the spate of drug-related killings, concluding that a majority of the killings appears to be “systematic, planned and organized” by authorities and could constitute crimes against humanity.
“Acting on orders from the very top, policemen and unknown killers have been targeting anybody remotely suspected of using or selling drugs,” said Rawya Rageh, a senior crisis adviser for Amnesty.
PNP breaking laws
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director, said that under Mr. Duterte’s rule, “the national police are breaking laws they are supposed to uphold while profiting from the murder of impoverished people.”
“The same streets Duterte vowed to rid of crime are now filled with bodies of people illegally killed by his own police,” she added.
Amnesty said the investigation was carried out mainly last November and December and was completed in January.
The group said it interviewed 110 people and the report included witness accounts of victims being shot dead despite having shouted they would surrender.
Amnesty said it also found “strong evidence” of links between the authorities and unknown gunmen, as well as connections between cursory and speculative drugs “watch lists” created by local officials, and the people killed by police.
The release of the report came amid uncertainty after the government suspended the antinarcotics campaign on Monday due to rampant corruption.
The Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency has now been given the lead role in the campaign.
Other police crimes
The Amnesty report outlined what the rights watchdog said were other widespread police crimes aside from extrajudicial killings in a “murderous war on the poor.”
Among a litany of alleged crimes, Amnesty accused police of shooting dead defenseless people, fabricating evidence, paying assassins to murder drug addicts and stealing from those they killed or the victims’ relatives.
It also said police were being paid by their superiors to kill, and documented victims as young as 8 years old.
“The police are behaving like the criminal underworld that they are supposed to be enforcing the law against,” it said.
The Amnesty report said Mr. Duterte had incited the police to carry out a murderous war on the poor, and warned that the International Criminal Court would need to start investigating if Philippine authorities did not stop it soon.
“The police killings are driven by pressures from the top, including an order to ‘neutralize’ alleged drug offenders, as well as financial incentives. They have created an informal economy of death,” the report said.
The latest police data shows 7,669 people have been killed since Mr. Duterte unleashed his war on drugs seven months ago, 2,555 in police operations, which the PNP says were all in self-defense.
The other deaths are classified as investigated or under investigation.
Human rights groups believe most of those are drug-related, carried out by vigilantes or hit men.
Police paid to kill
The Amnesty report confirmed rumors that the police were behind the extrajudicial killings and were paid to kill suspects in a campaign aimed mostly at the poor.
Amnesty said it found confirmation from a Metro Manila-based police antinarcotics officer who had served on the force for 13 years.
The policeman, who was not identified in the report, said his and other police units received payments for killing alleged drug offenders.
Amnesty said it spoke to two hired killers, a man and a woman, who claimed they were regularly paid by an active-duty policeman P5,000 to kill an alleged drug user and P10,000 to P15,000 to kill an alleged drug pusher.
The officer said that in addition to payments by police headquarters, some local governments in Metro Manila give additional benefits for every kill.
Paid by encounter
“We always get paid by the encounter. That’s the word we use, ‘encounter.’ The amount ranges from P8,000 ($161) to P15,000 ($302),” the officer said.
“The one we really go after are pushers. There are categories (of pushers)—different levels based on their notoriety. Higher levels are paid more,” he said.
“The PNP incentive isn’t announced. We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters. The payment is (split by) the unit. There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything (for arrests),” he said.
Racket with funeral homes
At a news conference where the Amnesty report was released on Wednesday, Amnesty Philippines trustee Sister Maria Vida Cordero said Amnesty researchers were unable to determine where the money for the cash incentives came from.
The officer also said some policemen had established a racket with funeral homes, who paid them for each body brought in.
Families are expected to pay funeral costs for those killed in law enforcement operations.
“Sometimes if I’m the investigator, I’ll bring the body to the biggest and most expensive [funeral home] because they give the biggest cuts,” the officer said.
He said police asked for P10,000 per body, driving up costs.
Amnesty said the information given by the policeman was corroborated independently, and the report included complaints from relatives of victims who said the bodies were taken to expensive funeral homes even if there were cheaper options nearby.
The two hired killers told Amnesty that the “job order” comes through the police officer but the order must have come from a higher-up.
The two said their group had other members, including former policemen.
Demand for their services, they said, has become “rampant” since Mr. Duterte came to office, averaging three to four hits a week.
They said that they were paid up-front when they received an order for a “riding-in-tandem” hit.
They said they would be given an envelope containing the target’s name, picture, address and profile.
The woman said the rate was P5,000 for a target identified as a drug user and P10,000 to P15,000 for a target named as drug pusher.
“Usually we don’t have multiple targets per project, but (when we do), we’re paid per head,” she said.
Amnesty said policemen and hired killers often planted evidence to link the target to drugs.
Both hired killers said they could not refuse a job even if they occasionally felt pity when the target was with young children, justifying their killing by saying they were “helping the government take out the trash of society.”
Amnesty said it had documented several instances when witnesses and relatives of the victims had reason to believe policemen disguised themselves as the killers or at least supported the killers.
The officer who talked to Amnesty said the policemen did not need to cover up the rights violations. “We don’t really need to. There aren’t investigations.”
The two hired killers said they believed the entire police force was complicit, since they and other hired killers had not been arrested.
In a number of cases, witnesses to killings or victims’ relatives told Amnesty that the person shot dead was unarmed and had not resisted arrest.
Police also planted drugs and weapons that they later “seized” as evidence, Amnesty said.
“I will surrender, I will surrender, sir,” Gener Rondina, 38, told police after they broke into his home in Cebu City, a witness told Amnesty.
Rondina then knelt and raised his arms behind his head but police shot him dead, Amnesty said, citing the witness.
When family members were allowed into the house six hours after Rondina was shot, valuables including a laptop, watch and money were missing, according to Amnesty.
Police alleged Rondina had a gun and they acted in self-defense, and the method of killing as well as the justification was typical of the drug war, Amnesty said.
Flawed ‘watch lists’
Amnesty also warned that the lists of drug suspects that police were using to target people were deeply flawed.
This was partly because many people were placed on the lists simply after being reported by fellow community members, without any further investigation, according to Amnesty.
It said the vast majority of victims lived in the poorest urban neighborhoods, and the families were further pushed into economic hardship from the deaths of their breadwinners, the police thievery and high funeral expenses.
The drug-related killings also left traumatized hundreds of children who witnessed the murders of members of their families.
Citing data from the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, Amnesty said that as of Dec. 25 last year, 27 children had been killed as a result of police drug-related operations.
Two were reportedly actual targets while the rest were killed by “mistake,” it said.
Amnesty recommended to Mr. Duterte to “immediately order an end to all police operations involving unnecessary or excessive use of force,” especially lethal force.
It said the PNP should suspend officers suspected of unlawful killings, planting evidence or involvement with hit men, and thoroughly investigate paid killings.