THE PHILIPPINE government’s war on drugs has seen its bloodiest days on record since it began in June last year, with at least 58 alleged drug suspects killed so far this week.
Police launched a major operation last night across the capital city Manila in which some 26 people were killed, as President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown intensifies. Manila police spokesman Colonel Erwin Margarejo applauded the raid and said those killed were resisting arrest.
“We are operating also against other street crimes, like robbery, but these people could also be under the influence of drugs,” he said.
“If they resisted violently, our police have to defend themselves.”
It was not immediately clear what was behind the step-up in the number of coordinated police operations this week, but Duterte gave a clear indication on Wednesday it had his blessing.
On Wednesday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said 32 drug suspects were killed and 109 arrested in Bulacan from the police’s anti-drug operations conducted in a span of 24 hours between August 15 and 16.
Margarejo said it was good 32 criminals had been killed in Bulacan, then added: “Let’s kill another 32 every day. Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”
Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said there had been no instruction to change or increase the scale and scope of the anti-drugs campaign.
“This is just part of our ‘one-time, big-time’ operations against illegal drugs,” he told Reuters.
Duterte also chided human rights groups on Wednesday for getting in the way of his anti-drugs campaign and said police should shoot them if they obstructed justice, a remark the New York-based Human Rights Watch said puts activists “in grave danger.”
Its deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine, described the comments as “like painting a target on the backs of courageous people working to protect the rights and upholding the dignity of all Filipinos.”
The exact number of people killed during the war on drugs is difficult to quantify, with no independent statistics available and police providing comprehensive data only for deaths during anti-drugs operations, where official accounts typically say suspects resisted arrest.
From the start of the drugs war to the end of July, police said over 3,400 people were killed in their operations. Police said about 2,100 deaths among some 13,500 murders over the same period were drugs-related, attributed to turf wars, informants being silenced, or vigilantes killing drug users.
A total of 65 policemen have been killed on the job during this time.
Critics maintain police officers are executing suspects and say it is likely they have a hand in thousands of unsolved murders of drug users by mysterious vigilantes. The PNP and government reject that accusation.
Although the violence has been criticised by much of the international community, Filipinos largely support the campaign and domestic opposition to it has been muted.
Several Senate hearings into allegations Duterte operated a death squad when he was a city mayor and was now using the same approach on a national scale have been inconclusive, while an impeachment complaint filed earlier this year was dismissed by Congress.
National police chief Ronald dela Rosa told reporters on Wednesday there would be no let-up in the war on drugs.
“This is unrelenting, we will continue to operate until the end,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters