Drug war leaving Filipinos 'hopeless and helpless,' says Robredo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Vice President Leni Robredo said Wednesday, March 15, the Philippines' drug war had left Filipinos feeling "hopeless and helpless", with trust in the police eroded by thousands of summary executions.

In a video message to a United Nations meeting on extrajudicial killings posted online, Robredo also called for international scrutiny on President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial crackdown.

"Some of those who have told us that when there’s crime, they normally go to the police. Now, they don't know where to turn," Robredo said in the message, which was released to press ahead of its screening at the UN meeting in Austria on Thursday, March 16.

"Our people feel both hopeless and helpless: a state of mind that we must all take seriously."

Since Duterte took office at the end of June, police have reported killing 2,500 people in anti-drug operations while about 4,500 others have died in unexplained circumstances. 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned Duterte may be overseeing crimes against humanity, with state sanctioned killings.

Duterte and his police chiefs have insisted security forces are not breaking any laws. They have said nearly all of those killed by police were in self-defense while the unexplained deaths were likely due to drug gangs eliminating rivals or others who could implicate them.

In her message to the United Nations, Robredo described all those deaths as "summary executions". 

"We are now looking at some very grim statistics: since July last year, more than 7,000 people have been killed in summary executions," Robredo said. 

Robredo also said police were detaining innocent people in a scheme known as "exchange heads".

In this, if police officers could not find a drug suspect, they would detain one of his or her relatives instead, according to Robredo.

Call for accountability

While Duterte has repeatedly railed against international human rights groups and other foreign critics of his drug war, Robredo invited more scrutiny.

She urged Filipinos to "demand greater transparency" from the government as they conduct the war on drugs.

"Because this is a major, publicly funded campaign, our leaders must be honest about the basis of the drug war. What, exactly, is the scope of the drug problem? Why do numbers about the extent of the problem change as officially reported to the nation by our President inconsistent?” she said.

She cited that there are around 500 complaints filed before the Commission on Human Rights that were recommended to the Department of Justice for their action. But none of the cases have been filed to date.

"We believe that any campaign against illegal drugs must be founded on integrity. The public must ask why no one is being held accountable. The public must be watchful,” she said.

"To know that the international community's eyes are on us and to feel that human rights advocates are watching over our country gives us comfort, courage, and hope," she added.

Philippine National Police spokesman Dionardo Carlos on Wednesday rejected Robredo's assertions, saying they did not reflect "the general situation".

He also denied that police were carrying out the "exchange heads" scheme.

"This is not the norm. This is not the practice," Carlos told reporters.

Duterte sacked Robredo from his cabinet in December after she started speaking out against his drug war and some of his other policies. Her comments to the UN meeting are among her strongest criticisms of Duterte. – with a report from Patty Pasion / Rappler.com