DESPITE countless allegations of torture and brutality towards criminal suspects, officers from the Philippines National Police (PNP) are often let off with a minor slap on the wrist, a watchdog claimed on Friday.
Human Rights Watch said the PNP deals with personnel implicated in such acts by mere reassignment and anger management training, which it said reflected the authorities’ failure to hold them to account for the crimes.
HRW’s Asia Division Researcher Carlos H. Conde said this was the “lesson” of an incident last month, in which a mobile phone video that has since gone viral showed a police officer in Metro Manila’s Mandaluyong City repeatedly striking with a rattan stick a man detained for violating his curfew.
“Typically, such abuses – which are commonplace throughout the country – elicit no response at all from the police hierarchy,” Conde said in a statement.
Conde said in the June incident, another officer reportedly stood by while his colleague assaulted a seated suspect inside a police station.
Eastern Police District officials did not open an investigation into the incident but reassigned them to the conflict zone in Marawi City, where fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels has been raging for more than six weeks.
Even when action is taken, Conde said it “pretty much misses the point.”
“Abusive law enforcers may be sent to more dangerous assignments, particularly in the restive parts of the southern Philippines, as an informal punishment for violations of police procedure,” he said.
“Senior officers, who are likely well aware of the abuses, go unscathed.”
He said the lack of stern action against violating officers fail to address the alleged systemic nature of police torture, adding it also explained why the official Commission on Human Rights has declared the PNP the “worst human rights violator in the country”.
Since taking power a year ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed a brutal war on drugs that resulted in thousands of deaths.
A Reuters report in June said in the first 11 months of Duterte’s rule, police confirmed that 3,155 suspects were shot dead in anti-drug operations. Critics maintain that many were summarily executed.
Police say they have investigated a further 2,000 drug-related killings, and have yet to identify a motive in at least another 7,000 murders and homicides.
Human rights monitors believe many of these victims were killed by undercover police or their paid vigilantes, a charge the police deny.
The PNP’s internal Affairs Service (IAS), which investigates all allegations of abuse by officers, said it had investigated 1,912 drug-related cases and recommended 159 officers for dismissal due to misconduct during anti-drug operations, although it didn’t know whether any had yet been dismissed.
Earlier in June, 19 police officers charged with murdering two drug suspects in their jail cell in November were released on bail and now face trial for the lesser crime of homicide.
Duterte, who has repeatedly urged police to kill drug suspects, had already vowed to pardon the officers if they were convicted.