PHILIPPINE police will soon be required to wear body cameras and will only be allowed to enter suspects’ homes during the day time, in new measures aimed at stemming concerns over police conduct in the bloody war on drugs.
Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said police would wear body cameras to record arrests, under a Jan. 19 memorandum made public on Wednesday that takes effect once the devices are procured. He did not, however, specify a date for when the cameras would be available for use.
“Once they are available, we will require them to wear that,” Dela Rosa said of the cameras.
“We would have a policy where there will be no anti-drug operations without body-worn cameras,” he told reporters.
Extrajudicial killings have been common in President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs in the Philippines. Police data shows nearly 4,000 drug suspects were killed since clean-up began back in June 2016. The Philippine National Police (PNP) insist all died because they violently resisted arrest. However, human rights activists have accused the PNP of executing suspected drug users and dealers in a systematic campaign of abuses and cover-ups.
The culture of impunity surrounding the police was brought to the fore in August when CCTV footage showed two policemen escorting 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos into an alley as the teenager reportedly screamed to go home. Delos Santos was later found dead with bullet wounds to his back.
After mounting national and international criticism, Duterte conceded in October and suspended the PNP’s operations, instead handing control of the drug war to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. At the time, Duterte said the suspension of the police will be “better for the bleeding hearts and media.”
Only months later, however, Duterte restored the role of the PNP in the crackdown, raising fears of resurgence in the brutal killings that have victimised mostly poor Filipino drug users.
In Wednesday’s memorandum, Dela Rosa also ordered police to immediately take injured suspects to hospital, and establish a data base of those who died in police operations.
Police were also ordered to limit the much-feared “Oplan Tokhang” operations, when they visit homes of users and dealers and seek their surrender, to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (2400-1200 GMT) on weekdays, police spokesman Dionardo Carlos told a separate media briefing.
“It has to be daytime, so as to erase the impression that if you have been the subject of Tokhang, you would be killed,” Carlos said, adding police would be required to wear their uniforms during such operations.
The Philippines has hit back at New York-based Human Rights Watch for what it called a misleading death toll of more than 12,000 in the drugs war, putting the number at half that.
Additional reporting by Reuters