January 26, 2017 / 10:19 AM / 3 years ago

Families of slain Filipinos file first legal challenge to drugs war

MANILA (Reuters) - Families of alleged drugs suspects killed by Philippine police petitioned the Supreme Court on Thursday to force police to disclose evidence linking them to narcotics, in the first legal challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Lawyers representing families of four men killed in a rundown Manila neighbourhood in August, and one survivor, urged the top court to allow scrutiny of police operations because the official accounts were “sheer incongruity” and read like movie plots “from bygone days of Filipino cinema”.

Duterte’s war on drugs has caused an international outcry, with human rights groups alleging widespread summary executions by police operating with impunity.

The tough-talking president said he would stand by police if suspects were killed because they put up violent resistance.

More than 7,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office seven months ago, about 2,250 in anti-drugs operations and the rest still being investigated. Police say many of those deaths are gangs members killing each other though critics blame many deaths on vigilantes in cahoots with police.

The petition asks the top court to compel police to suspend drugs operations in parts of the Quezon City area of Manila, where the four were killed, and make available the surveillance material and intelligence reports that had initially identified the victims as being drugs dealers. The families deny their kin were involved in drugs.

The government vehemently denies sponsoring extrajudicial killings, or police collaboration with assassins.

A spokesman for the Philippine National Police declined to comment on the petition saying the police legal office was studying it and would respond later.

Asked about the lawsuit, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said authorities had no involvement in extrajudicial killings and Duterte would allow the legal process to take its course.

The petition comes amid muted domestic dissent over a campaign that has broad public support.

Duterte has launched torrents of verbal abuse at anyone who has spoken against the campaign, from rights groups and senators to catholic priests and Western governments.

The complaint said police had fabricated death certificates and incident reports to conceal operations taking place outside their jurisdiction.

It said the petition was only possible because police had failed to kill one of the men, vegetable seller Efren Morillo.

In an interview last year with Reuters, Morillo said he had no involvement in drugs and survived because he played dead. He said he heard his friends plead for their lives before being shot and the only people armed were police.

In a speech on Thursday, Duterte said dozens of police and military had been killed during the crackdown and his message was clear that they could use deadly force to defend themselves.

“I take full legal responsibility,” he said.

Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel

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