President’s call to revive death penalty will only worsen climate of impunity

President Duterte’s call to revive the death penalty during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) will only worsen the country’s climate of impunity amid the government’s deadly anti-drugs campaign, Amnesty International said today.

“Extrajudicial killings remain rife in the Philippines. Talk of bringing back the death penalty for drug-related crimes is abhorrent, and risks aggravating the current climate of impunity,” said Butch Olano, Section Director of Amnesty International Philippines

During today’s speech, President Duterte called on Congress to reinstate the death penalty for drug-related crimes. The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences contravene international law and standards.

Duterte’s endorsement of the death penalty comes weeks after the killing of a three-year-old girl in a police operation.

“The state of our nation is a state of mourning. We should not be burying our children amid deadly and ill-conceived police raids,” said Butch Olano. “This speech was a missed opportunity to take stock of the tragic killing of three-year-old Myca Ulpina, and thousands of others. The President addressed the topic of drugs but did not confront the truth. The country needs an approach that delivers justice for the families of the thousands unlawfully killed, and effective health and social services for those who need them.”

An Amnesty International report released this month, ‘They just kill’: Ongoing extrajudicial executions and other violations in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs,’ showed that the Philippine government’s so-called “war on drugs” remains a murderous war on the poor, with rampant killings of mostly poor and marginalized people continuing without credible, impartial and effective investigations into them. There has been just one conviction of police officers to date, following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August 2017.

“Kian’s killing became emblematic of the horrors of the so-called ‘war on drugs’, and the convictions of police officers were a small step towards the justice Filipinos deserve,” said Butch Olano. “Now the country reels from the tragic killing of Myca Ulpina. She was three years old. If this tragedy does not move this administration to change course, it will be further proof of its wanton disregard for human life.”

Myca Ulpina died in a police operation in Rizal provice in late June, in which a police officer was also killed. The government claims her father used her as a human shield during a “buy bust” operation; the girl’s mother claims that police burst into the family home without a warrant as the family slept.

The Philippine government has acknowledged at least 6,600 killings at the hands of police, but evidence points to many more being killed by unknown armed persons with likely links to the police. Amnesty International has found that the torrent of unlawful killings, many of them extrajudicial executions, may amount to crimes against humanity.

“The government keeps saying bereaved families should file cases before the courts if they believe the police acted illegally during anti-drug operations,” said Butch Olano. “But Amnesty’s research has shown that families are living in fear of reprisals from police if they dare to speak up. They are further unable to secure police reports, a crucial piece of evidence to support their allegations, and pursuing these cases is prohibitively costly for poor families.”

“The administration’s war on the poor does not end with the killings. It sends families and whole communities into a living hell, all to protect a cruel and repressive policy that is doing nothing to protect people from the risks of drugs,” said Butch Olano.

President Duterte’s SONA also failed to commit his administration to cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which will deliver a report in June 2020 on the human rights situation in the Philippines, including unlawful killings in the context of the “war on drugs”, as mandated by a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month.

“This UN probe offers hope to thousands of families who lost loved ones as part of the so-called ‘war on drugs’” said Butch Olano. “As long as the authorities deny these families their right to justice, international pressure on the architects of this murderous campaign will keep growing.”