Prison guards escort four Hong Kong nationals aboard a ship found to be a floating shabu (methamphetamine) laboratory as they take part in a court inspection for their drug trial in Subic, Zambales in the Philippines November 25, 2016. Image Credit: REUTERS

Manila: Eleven senators signed a committee report that said there was no proof of state-backed killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drug trade.

The report, drafted by Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson, chairs of the Senate committees on justice and human rights, and public order and dangerous drugs, respectively, which was released late Wednesday night and presented to the media on Thursday, absolved Duterte and the Philippine National Police from the killing of more than 4,000 alleged drug-lords, pushers, and users since July.

It also absolved Duterte’s alleged involvement in the so-called “Davao Death Squad” which was responsible for 1,000 deaths of activists, criminals, and drug lords-users-pushers in his southern hometown where he was mayor for decades.

The same report observed that “many thousands of killings with impunity” have already occurred in the Philippines in the last two decades.

Suggesting a more humane campaign against illegal drug trade, the report reminded Duterte. “The war against illegal drugs must be won within the legal system.”

“The President must lead in reminding the people of this important message,” the report said.

“While the people recognise his fearless naming of generals and prominent personalities, including politicians and judges, as (alleged) protectors of drug lords, due process must still be observed. The accused deserve their day in court to prove their innocence,” the report said.

Since the senate committees’ joint probe on extrajudicial killings and summary executions was made in aide of legislation, the report proposed the amendment of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Reforms and Reorganization Act to enable the Internal Affairs Service to immediately investigate erring police personnel.

It also proposed the creation of special criminal courts for erring and abusive police officers, and the creation of a joint congressional oversight committee to monitor paramilitary units and reported drug-related killings.

The report also recommended that police officers must be admonished for compelling drug users who were arrested without warrant to sign “voluntary surrender certificates”.

Apart from Gordon and Lacson, the other nine signatories were Senators Nancy Binay, Alan Peter Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Gregorio Honasan II, Loren Legarda, Manny Pacquiao, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Vicente Sotto III, and Juan Miguel Zubiri. Cayetano, Drilon, and Pangilinan said they signed the report with reservations.

Those who did not sign the report were Senators Ralph Recto; Leila de Lima, accused by Duterte as alleged drug-lord protector who received protection money when she was justice secretary during the time of former president Benigno Aquino; and Antonio Trillanes IV, who called Gordon a “Duterte collaborator”. He trashed the senate report as “garbage”.

Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito and Grace Poe failed to cast their votes. Ejercito was on leave following a suspension from the Ombudsman, and Poe was on official business tour.

Local and international rights groups, including the United Nations, have criticised the Philippines’ campaign against illegal drug trade. The police said that drug syndicates were responsible for more than half of 4,000 deaths since July.

Illegal drug trade has earned $8.4 billion (Dh30.85 billion) in the Philippines in 2013, records showed.