THE US government noted a decline in “extrajudicial killings” in Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing war on narcotics but says it is “cautiously optimistic” over the drop in the number of deaths involving suspected drug peddlers.
A US senior narcotics official said Washington has shifted away millions of dollars in funding for law enforcement from a drug control programme of the Philippine National Police since the bloody anti-narcotics campaign started in July 2016.
However, there are positive signs and the United States remains supportive of the Philippines’ effort to battle illicit drugs, said James Walsh, a deputy assistant state secretary in the international narcotics and law enforcement bureau.
“I would describe the United States as being cautiously optimistic,” Walsh said late Tuesday.
“Many folks have been tracking the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and the trends are going down, so there is some encouragement that we are seeing in some of our human rights training working.”
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch urged the Philippine government to support the creation of a United Nations-led investigation into the thousands of killings linked to the war on drugs.
It said a UN-led probe would both help clarify the disparity in official and independent estimates of killings in the anti-drug campaign and facilitate accountability for unlawful deaths.
Nearly 4,000 people have been killed in shootouts with the police in raids and sting operations since Duterte came to power in July 2016, government data shows. But human rights groups put the figure higher, accusing police of executing drug users and peddlers in cold blood.
“The glaring disparity between the Philippine government’s official death toll and those of credible independent observers underscores the urgent need for a UN-led independent investigation into killings since the drug war began in June 2016,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
“The government should welcome a UN effort to establish an impartial and verifiable death toll as a crucial first step in accountability for wrongful deaths.”
On Wednesday, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said there were no “extrajudicial killings” in the war on drugs.
But he welcomed the comments as a reflection of Washington’s growing appreciation of the campaign’s benefits.
“These efforts are anchored on respect for human rights, cognizant of our obligation to protect our people’s right to life and to live in peace and security,” Roque said in a statement.
Police resumed their anti-drug campaign on Monday with visits to the homes of users and dealers to convince them to surrender, and police chief Ronald dela Rosa offered an assurance it would be free of violence.
Dela Rosa there were no deaths reported in the first 24 hours after operations resumed.
Walsh also said Washington has been cooperating with Cambodia, China, Indonesia and the Philippines and has seen traffickers now use bitcoin to flood the US market with synthetic drugs from China and Mexico.
Additional reporting by Reuters