In June 2019, Filipino police officers carried out an undercover operation against two suspected drug traffickers on the outskirts of Manila.
During the operation, authorities claimed that the suspects had engaged them in a shootout, shooting an officer in the neck and killing him. The two suspects were also killed.
A three-year-old child, the daughter of one of the suspects, has been caught in the crossfire. She was shot in the head and later died in hospital. Police said she was used as a “human shield” by her father. But the child’s mother disputed the report, saying her family were already asleep when police started shooting and her husband was unarmed. She subsequently filed a murder complaint against the police.
Ronald dela Rosa had just taken his seat in the Senate when the incident occurred. He had previously served as President Rodrigo Duterte’s police chief and chief official in the war on drugs, which at that time had already killed at least 6,600.
Asked about the rules of conduct in the war on drugs and the death of an innocent child, the first senator joked in a mixture of Tagalog and English: “It’s an imperfect world… sh * t happens.
“If you’re a police officer, do you really want a child caught in the crossfire? Never. Honestly, there really is collateral damage.
As the senator managed a surprise Friday by submitting his candidacy for the presidency of the Philippines in 2022 just 30 minutes before the deadline, human rights groups are sounding the alarm bells over his record on the matter. rights and the perception of impunity it represents.
Dela Rosa’s candidacy shows the “redoubling of the brutal policy” of murderous war within the “Duterte clique,” Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera.
“There is this refusal to recognize the problem of the war on drugs,” he said, adding that the senator’s candidacy ensures that “they protect themselves from responsibility” if he wins in the election. .
“They want to have some kind of insurance to protect themselves after 2022.”
Condé also said that the drug war policy gives dela Rosa “significant political capital” as a candidate for the ruling party.
“Other than that, not promising to continue the war on drugs would be a rejection of Duterte’s policy. So they will stick with it.
The senator has long fueled the controversy.
In a previous incident where police officers accused of killing an unarmed teenager, dela Rosa had also defended his men, saying that while the incident was “exaggerated”, the authorities had not intentionally killed the high school student. Three police officers were later convicted of murder in the teenager’s death in 2017.
The then police chief also rejected a 2018 Supreme Court order to release data on the War on Drugs and other details of police operations, citing the safety of the officers involved.
Dela Rosa, who briefly served as the head of the country’s prisons, drew criticism when he told prison guards that they should “be prepared to kill” and not be intimidated by prisoners, adding: “I hate cowards.”
In 2016, police officers under him were accused of killing a city mayor who was already in custody on drug-related charges. Dela Rosa also issued a police memo in 2016 ordering the “neutralization” of drug suspects as part of the agency’s “Double Barrel” campaign against drug suspects.
Senator Bato dela Rosa’s own words that he is ready to cede his place to Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte if she runs for president could be proof that he has no intention of to run as a reason for him to be declared a harmful candidate, said election lawyer Romulo Macalintal.#ANCRundown https://t.co/oCzbUVDGbS
-Mike Navallo (@mikenavallo) October 11, 2021
“Casual attitude towards human rights”
Duterte’s war on drugs is now a under investigation at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Apart from Duterte, the only other senior official specifically mentioned in the pre-trial chamber investigation is dela Rosa.
The latest government data released in June shows that by the end of April 2021, police and other security forces had killed at least 6,117 suspected drug traffickers during its operations. But government figures cited by the UN in June 2020 already reported at least 8,600 deaths.
Human rights groups say the death toll could be between 27,000 and 30,000. They accuse the authorities of carrying out summary executions that have killed innocent suspects, including children.
Duterte rejected the ICC investigation and vowed to block any prosecutors from coming to the country.
The investigation also focused on summary executions in the southern city of Davao, where Duterte served as mayor for several years. Dela Rosa was Davao Police Chief under Duterte from 2012 to 2013. Prior to that he also held various police posts in Davao.
Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio now runs the town, and some analysts suspect dela Rosa may just be a seat warmer for his candidacy. Under the country’s electoral rules, late registrations are allowed until November 15 if a declared candidate withdraws and gives way to an alternate candidate.
When the ICC investigation was announced in September, dela Rosa responded at a Senate committee hearing saying, “As a Filipino, I would rather be tried, convicted and hanged in a Filipino court than be tried, convicted and hanged in a Philippine court. foreign court.
He failed to mention that the ICC in The Hague prohibits the death penalty and that the Philippines has abolished the practice.
Edre Olalia is president of the National Union of People’s Advocates (NUPL), a group that frequently represents victims of human rights. He told Al Jazeera that dela Rosa’s candidacy “clearly bodes ill for the respect, promotion and protection of human rights” in the Philippines.
“His record and his attitude towards the serious allegations [of human rights violations], the nonchalant and even casual manner in which he responds to these allegations before the ICC – this very much reflects his political position, ”said Olalia.
He adds that dela Rosa’s candidacy “plays in the scenario that he wants to deflect all responsibility, even at the level of the ICC”.
“Even if it is not a placeholder [candidate], he will still benefit if he becomes president, although distant as is the case now. But you’ll never really know.
“A parody of the process”
Dela Rosa has not clearly ruled out that he may step down in favor of Duterte-Carpio, but insists he is qualified to become the country’s next president.
Shortly after submitting his candidacy on Friday, the senator told reporters in Manila that he only learned that he had been selected as the presidential candidate of the ruling PDP-Laban party two hours before the deadline. 5:00 p.m. (09:00 GMT).
“This is the strategy. This is because when you announce early, you will also become an early target. That’s why we kept it a secret, ”he explained.
But when asked if he was ready to make way for Duterte-Carpio, he replied: “So it’s even better. It is a party decision. It is not my personal decision.
In a separate interview on Monday, dela Rosa said that, given that “Duterte-Carpio’s earning capacity is very high”, he is “ready to step aside if people don’t want to accept me as a serious candidate” .
In response to dela Rosa’s statement, the rights group Karapatan said the senator’s decision was a “mockery” of the electoral process.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, Karapatan called the announcement a “shameless tactic that we know too well to be ripped straight from the playbook” of Duterte when he ran for president in 2016.
“There are more sinister plots that could certainly unfold in the days and months to come. We cannot exclude the possibility that Sara Duterte will eventually run as president by replacing [dela Rosa], or as vice-president of Marcos Jr, ”added the group, referring to the late dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos, also a presidential candidate.
Olalia, the president of the NUPL, added that if it was proven that dela Rosa was defending another candidate, it would show the “shameless trivialization of a solemn right that has been fought by generations before us”.
“They see it as a game rather than a serious political exercise. They take us for fools.
Besides dela Rosa, those who have declared their intention to run for president include the leader of the opposition, Vice-President Lenny Robredo, Senator Manny Pacquiao, international boxing champion, the Mayor of Manila Isko Moreno and former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Another lesser-known ally of Duterte, Deputy Foreign Secretary Ernesto Abella, has also said he will run for president. Abella was Duterte’s spokesperson before he was appointed to the foreign office.