Gascon proposes CHR-PNP task force on drug war

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Chito Gascon has proposed the creation of a joint task force with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to "hold everyone accountable" in the war on drugs.

Gascon raised the proposed creation of the CHR-PNP Task Force in a letter to PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa sent on Tuesday, August 29.

“In order to ensure more effective coordination between our agencies, we propose the creation of a Joint CHR-PNP Task Force in relation to the Campaign Against Illegal Drugs for effective monitoring and case information sharing between us,” Gascon told Dela Rosa.

The CHR chief formalized his proposal following the death of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, which sparked public outrage and exposed serious flaws in the state's war on drugs.

"The purpose of the task force is to hold everyone accountable," Gascon told Rappler in a phone interview. "Now, ang gusto namin may (what we want is) positive action. Hinihingi namin (We are asking for) case folders, regular updates."

In a Senate hearing attended by Dela Rosa, Gascon told senators he observed the seeming reluctance of the PNP to coordinate with the CHR in drug-related deaths. (READ: 'Puro dribble': CHR hits PNP for not cooperating in drug war probes)

In his letter to Dela Rosa, Gascon requested documents from police operations since the start of Project Double Barrel such as spot reports, forensic reports, and inventory reports. Gascon said the creation of the task force would allow the CHR to get the documents faster.

Gascon also expects to forge a better communication line with the PNP. He and Dela Rosa only held their first joint meeting on August 29. Prior to that, they only exchanged statements through the media.

The CHR chief proposed the following as members of the joint task force:

PNP office not enough?

Once the task force is formed, what would happen to the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO), which is mandated to ensure the protection of all human rights in law enforcement operations?

Its functions include developing rights programs and legal measures in the PNP, monitoring investigations involving police, and establishing links with agencies handling human rights abuse complaints against cops.

These functions overlap with that of Gascon's proposed task force. Asked about this, Gascon said their cooperation with HRAO, so far, has been limited to information campaigns.

"Sa HRAO merong coordination (There is coordination with the HRAO). Normally, it involves the HRAO getting us a resource person for teaching human rights. Patuloy (It continues). But it has not been effective in addressing human rights violations in waging the war against drugs," Gascon said.

PNP HRAO chief Dennis Siervo, for his part, said the information campaigns have helped reduce deaths in police operations. (READ: Death rate down in police operations – DILG, PNP)

These sessions, Siervo said, have prevented police from using excessive violence in operations by reminding them of the PNP Miranda warning and Anti-Torture warning guidelines.

Dela Rosa: 'Magsama-sama kami'

Dela Rosa said he looked forward to working with Gascon, when asked about the meeting with Gascon and the CHR chief's letter.

"They (CHR officials) are not agains't war on drugs. Against lang sila doon sa mga possible human rights violations na nagagawa as a result of the war on drugs. Pero yung war on drugs mismo gusto talaga nila matapos yung problema sa droga....Magsama-sama kami," Dela Rosa said. (READ: 'Demonizing' human rights in the first year of Duterte)

(They are not against the war on drugs. They are just against possible human rights violations that might have been committed as a result of the war on drugs. But the war on drugs itself, they really want the drug problem finished....We will work together.)

Dela Rosa said, however, that the fate of the proposed task force is in the hands of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Isa 'yan sa i-clear ko kay Presidente ngayon tungkol nga diyan sa mga case folders kung puwede ba na i-open yung mga case folder sa kanila  (I have to clear that with the President, if we can now open the case folders to them)," Dela Rosa said.

"In deference to the instruction ni Presidente na lahat ng mga investigation ay dapat may clearance sa kanya. Alangan naman [na hindi].  He is our commander-in-chief. Paalam talaga tayo sa kanya," he added.

([This is] in deference to the President's instruction that all investigations need his clearance. We cannot [do otherwise]. He is our commander-in-chief. We really need to get his permission.)

Dela Rosa was apparently referring to the President's earlier demand that all investigations on alleged erring cops need his go signal. Malacañang had earlier clarified that Duterte just wanted to be informed if cops or soldiers would be probed for actions related to the drug war.

Gascon said he expected a formal response to their request letter by Friday, September 8.

Read Gascon's letter to Dela Rosa here:

 – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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