MANILA (Reuters) – A Philippines court granted protection on Friday to families of five people killed or wounded by police and the right to access police case reports, in the first successful legal challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly crackdown on drugs.
Duterte’s campaign has caused an international outcry, with human rights groups alleging widespread summary executions by police operating with impunity. More than 7,700 people have died since the firebrand leader took office seven months ago, more than 2,500 in what police say are shootouts with drug suspects.
“This is the fastest resolution of a case Centerlaw has ever handled,” said Joel Butuyan, president of the lawyers’ group handling the case at the Court of Appeals, which listened to two hours or oral arguments before deciding.
The group is representing families of the four men killed by police, and one man who survived.
Its petition said police had fabricated death certificates and incident reports to conceal operations taking place outside their jurisdiction. The court said allegations in the petition were supported by “substantial evidence”.
Friday’s ruling barred four policemen in the case from going near the families and ordered they be re-assignment to other police stations.
The lawyer group had said its petition was only possible because police had failed to kill one of the men, vegetable seller Efren Morillo.
Morillo told Reuters last year he had no involvement in drugs and survived because he played dead. He said he heard his friends plead for their lives before being shot and the only people who were armed were police.
The government vehemently denies sponsoring extrajudicial killings. Duterte recently suspended police from taking part in anti-drugs operations following the killing of a South Korean businessman by rogue drugs squad officers.
However, he has vowed to forge ahead with the campaign, putting in charge the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), with plans for the military to offer support during raids.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Dominic Evans)