MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said his office will be doing a "legal audit" of all the killings that took place during police anti-drug operations.
He is doing this with the cooperation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in his capacity as presidential adviser on human rights, he said on Tuesday, April 24.
"I've actually coordinated with the police to document each of the killings they have reported and actually make sure there is no basis to prosecute our men in uniform in connection with these killings," he said during a Palace press conference.
Roque said the initiative should be completed in "two to three" months and that the work is already "halfway done."
"So in a few months, I will have a file each for every killing reported by the PNP, indicating there has been no excessive use of force," he said.
In a message to Rappler, Roque said by "halfway done" he meant that "half of the figure [of deaths] reported by the PNP" have already been documented in files.
Asked if Roque would be willing to make the files public, he said these would remain under the discretion of the PNP.
"They will be with PNP. Legal audit lang ako (I'm just doing the legal audit)," he told Rappler.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the new lead agency in the drug campaign, reported that 4,075 drug suspects have been killed in government anti-drug operations. This does not include 2,467 "drug-related" killings.
More confident defense
Duterte's spokesman said he initiated the documentation effort to ascertain that the anti-drug campaign launched by the President is defensible.
"Sa susunod na magreklamo sila (The next time they complain), I will now be able to confidently say, 'That's not true. We went through each and every case and we can convincedly say that there was no excessive use of force in these instances,'" he said.
The Duterte administration has been consistently under fire for its bloody campaign against illegal drugs.
Rappler also asked Roque what type of documents and information on the killings are to be found in these files. But the spokesman dismissed the question: "All others (questions) are admin matters."
Roque had also said he is compiling the files in order to be more confident in defending the anti-drug campaign. Was he not that confident before? If he were, what then was his basis for saying all the deaths were the result of legitimate police operations or that suspects died because they fought back?
There is high demand for the files Roque is gathering. The Supreme Court wants to take a look at them. So does the Commission on Human Rights and other human rights and transparency groups.
But the PNP has said it would only provide the drug campaign documents to the court if Duterte gives the go signal.
As Duterte's human rights adviser, Roque is Duterte's go-to guy when it comes to staying on top of International Criminal Court (ICC) developments.
It was Roque, for instance, who had briefed Duterte on the ICC's preliminary examination into his drug campaign.
He has said that, in the event that the ICC pursues an investigation, Roque, being among the few Asians qualified to represent clients before the ICC, will assist in defending Duterte. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.