PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs in the Philippines is still a central priority of his administration, the government has asserted.
National security advisor Hermogenes Esperon said during a forum on Wednesday that “one of our major programs is the war against drugs”, as quoted by the state-run Philippine News Agency.
“We believe that a country is stronger when it is free from the chain of illegal drugs,” he added.
Since taking office in June 2016, Duterte has presided over a campaign against illegal drugs during which the government says it has “neutralised” – killed – some 4540 “drug lords” and arrested almost 50,000 people.
Human Rights Watch has claimed the real figure of those killed by police or plain-clothed assassins is more than 12,000 – most of whom are urban poor.
According to Rappler, at least 54 Filipinos below the age of 18 were killed in police operations or vigilante slayings during the first year of Duterte’s administration alone.
The government claims it has “cleared” 62 percent of drug-affected neighbourhoods in the country. “Our efforts in the fight against illegal drugs and criminality, has resulted in reduced crime volume,” Esperon was quoted as saying.
“In the December 2017 SWS survey, 57 percent of Filipino adults nationwide said the safety of their family is better now compared to six months ago. In that same survey the president had a net satisfaction rating of 58 percent,” he said.
While still widely popular with the Philippine public, President Duterte has seen his popularity rating take a hit recently after he made inflammatory remarks regarding God and the church. The Philippines is the third largest Catholic-majority country on the planet and the largest in Asia.
Many within the Catholic church have been vocal opponents of killings amid the anti-drug campaign.