HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Senate committee in the Philippines will investigate police actions after a Reuters report detailed how officers have used hospitals to cover up executions in President Rodrigo Duterte’s year-old war on drugs, the committee’s head said on Monday.
The Reuters article, published on Thursday, detailed how police have been sending corpses of drug suspects to hospital after they were killed in anti-drug operations. Witnesses and family members said the suspects were executed and their bodies removed in a police cover up.
Interviewed for the article, Metro Manila Police Chief Oscar Albayalde promised to investigate the findings, which were based on eight months of official crime data and interviews with witnesses, family members, doctors and police.
National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa, who declined to be interviewed for the piece, challenged its contents on Friday and said police are not medically qualified to determine whether a victim is dead or alive. A spokeswoman for Reuters said the news agency stood by its reporting.
On Monday, responding to an opposition call for an investigation of Reuters’ findings, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs told Reuters there would be an inquiry.
“I will conduct an inquiry basically because there are witnesses named in the Reuters report,” added the chairman, Senator Panfilo Lacson. Witnesses are invited to testify under oath.
The Senate is small, with only 24 seats, but its members are influential. They include Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champion, and Lacson, a former national police chief. The Senate has also been home to Duterte’s fiercest critics.
Since the drug war began, senators have grilled top police officers and former hitmen in often sensational televised hearings that have enraged Duterte and mesmerised millions of Filipinos.
There was no immediate response from Duterte’s office to the Senate move.
The Reuters report, based on data from two of Metro Manila’s five police districts for the first eight months of the drug war, showed that of 301 victims sent to hospital after police anti-drug operations only two survived. The rest were dead on arrival.
In July 2016, the first month of the drug war, there were 10 dead-on-arrival cases, or 13 percent of police drug shooting deaths. By January 2017, the tally had risen to 51 cases, or 85 percent.
A police commander who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the increase was not a coincidence and police were trying to prevent crime scene investigations and media attention that might show they were executing suspects.
In a three-page resolution calling for an inquiry, opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes also cited an earlier Reuters report that described how police were paid to kill drug suspects and plant evidence. A police spokesman at the time called the payment claim “implausible”.
No date has been fixed for the inquiry. The Senate resumes at the end of July.
Reporting by Clare Baldwin, Manuel Mogato and Andrew R.C. Marshall; edited by Janet McBride