HRW raises doubt over Duterte’s task force to probe media slays

Oct. 16, 2016

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A New York-based human rights watchdog has expressed doubt that the “Presidential Task Force on Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of the Members of the Media” of the Duterte administration to probe media slays in the Philippines would carry out an impartial probe into the cases.

In a statement on Saturday, Oct. 15, Human Rights Watch Asia division Deputy Director Phelim Kine said President Rodrigo Duterte has justified the killings of journalists which he deemed “corrupt” and noted the government has been “cheerleading killings without consequences” in its nation-wide anti-illegal drug campaign which claimed 2, 000 lives since July 1.

Kine cites Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign as one of the reasons for journalists to be skeptical on the integrity of the government to probe the media slays.

The government has consistently refused to investigate the circumstances of those deaths, which include an estimated 1,323 killings by police of suspected ‘drug pushers and users’ as well as 1,067 killings linked to ‘unidentified gunmen’ between July 1 and Sept. 30.

“Instead, Duterte has praised the killings as proof of the ‘success’ of the anti-drug campaign and urged police to ‘seize the momentum’,” Kine said.

Apart from this, HRW also questions the composition of the task force on how committed it is to conduct and thorough and impartial probe. The task force will be chaired by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and co-chaired by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

“The taskforce chairman is Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who has demonstrated a reprehensible contempt for rule of law by defending the killings linked to Duterte’s ‘war on drugs,” Kine said.

Aguirre has refused to respond to repeated calls for the Justice Department to launch an urgent and impartial investigation into those deaths and justified the mounting death toll by stating, ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures. So this is what the president is doing and we support it,’ he added.

But HRW also welcomes the creation of the task force because a “probe is sorely needed” as data show that of the 172 cases filed in court so far, only 14 cases have ended in convictions.

“Former President Benigno Aquino III vowed to put a stop to such killings and to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. But while at least 30 journalists were killed while Aquino was in office from 2010-2016, police recorded only one successful prosecution of a journalist’s killer during that time. Worse, not a single mastermind of these killings has been prosecuted and convicted,” the HRW said.

The “Presidential Task Force on Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of the Members of the Media” was established through an administrative order (AO) signed by Duterte on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The task force has the mandate to “efficient, coherent, and comprehensive resolution of unsolved cases of violence in the form of killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons against the members of the press.”

“The Philippines’ growing ranks of victims of extrajudicial killings deserve justice. But unless official attitudes shift 180 degrees, there’s no reason to believe the Duterte government will provide it anytime soon,” the global rights group said.

The task force to probe media slays was established at a time when the country is in global spotlight because of drug-related killings under the Duterte administration. (

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