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Pacific News Minute: Philippine Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Legality of Drug War

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

In Manila, the Supreme Court of the Philippines is hearing oral arguments this week, on two suits that challenge President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. On Tuesday, Solicitor General Jose Calida described the petitions as attempts to destabilize the government and sow anarchy…we have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

One of the suits cites a police memo that authorizes officers to “neutralize” or “negate” drug suspects. Lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno told the court that the words have no counterpart in law, but, in police parlance, he said, “to neutralize means to kill.”

Solicitor General Calida replied that, in context, the words should be understood to include “subdue, incapacitate, arrest and, in the most extreme cases – when the life of an officer is in danger – to kill.”

Police have recorded almost 4,000 deaths in the drug war since President Duterte took office in June 2016. Human rights groups say the death toll is at least three times that.

This week, Reuters reported on the death of three men in a poor district of Manila. According to the police report, one of them was selling drugs when, sensing the presence of police, he and two associates drew guns and opened fire. All three were shot and wounded by police, then rushed to the hospital where they died.

Reuters cited closed circuit TV footage and witnesses as telling a very different story. Plain clothes officers detain three unarmed men in an alley, when ID is produced, one officer shouts, “Positive, Positive” and the police open fire. Instead of rushing the victims to the hospital, police wait 25 minutes to load what appear to be lifeless bodies into pedi-cabs. Not in an effort to get treatment, critics say, but to cover up the crime scene.  Four video cameras also showed police disabling another camera that covered the alley where the shootings occurred. A Presidential spokesman says an investigation is underway.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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