THE drug war waged by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has killed nearly 1,800 suspected drug criminals, some at the hands of local policemen who were themselves involved in the narcotics trade, witnesses alleged at a Senate inquiry yesterday.
Sen. Leila de Lima, who heads the Senate committee leading the investigation, said she was worried about the widespread killings, and that law enforcers and vigilantes may be using the crackdown “to commit murder with impunity.”
One witness told the senators that her husband and father-in-law were arrested and beaten by policemen and taken to a police station, where they were shot to death last month.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa testified that there was no order to kill suspects.
According to Dela Rosa’s report, a total of 1,779 people have been killed since Duterte took office on July 1. Of the total, 712 were slain during police operations while the remaining 1,067 deaths occurred outside the authorities’ purview, some possibly by death squads and vigilante groups.
The woman clutches her dead husband in grief after armed assailants in a motorcycle shot him in a main thoroughfare on July 23, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)
“We have nothing to do with vigilante slays, I swear on that,” Dela Rosa was quoted as saying in The Inquirer.
“The PNP’s stand against extrajudicial killings is uncompromising. If any policeman is found that he violated the law on self-defense, he will be investigated, prosecuted and accordingly punished.”
Dela Rosa’s said the killings of suspects that happened outside police operations were carried out by syndicate groups involved in illegal drugs.
Responding to a question by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV Dela Rosa said: “If only the President orders us to stop the war on drugs, then we will just neglect it. We are really exhausted. We are also losing police officers. So if the President orders us to stop, then we will.”
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the death toll constitutes a more-than-tenfold jump over the 68 such police killings recorded between January 1 and June 15, a period of over five months.
HRW’s Asia Division deputy director Phelim Kine said the killings suggested that Duterte’s aggressive rhetoric advocating violent, extrajudicial solutions to criminality in the Philippines has found a receptive audience.
“Duterte is steamrolling the rule of law and its advocates both at home and abroad. He has declared the soaring number of killings of alleged criminal suspects as proof of the “success” of his anti-drug campaign and urged police to ‘seize the momentum,'” Kine said.
Kine said Duterte has sought to intimidate domestic critics of that campaign and dismissed international critics as “stupid.”
“Other countries, including the United States and European Union members, should make it clear to Duterte that inciting such violence is unacceptable and will reap potentially severe diplomatic and economic costs, beyond the human one,” Kine said.
“Otherwise, it’s hard to envision when these killings will end.”
Additional reporting from the Associated Press