By Phelim Kine
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch
NEW YORK, USA – The Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed Monday (August 22) at a Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings the shocking human toll inflicted by the police in the “war on drugs” launched by President Rodrigo Duterte after taking office seven weeks ago.
Police statistics show that from July 1 to August 19, 2016, police have killed an estimated 712 suspected “drug pushers and users.”
That 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.
PNP Director-General Ronald dela Rosa was unconcerned by the sharp rise, characterizing the killings as proof of an “uncompromising” police approach to drug crimes.
Dela Rosa added that police personnel implicated in unjustified killings of criminal suspects “will be investigated, prosecuted, and accordingly punished,” but made it clear that he will not proactively examine those deaths.
Last month dela Rosa slammed calls for an investigation as “legal harassment,” saying it “dampens the morale” of police officers.
Meanwhile, the country’s top prosecutor, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, defended the legality of police killings and suggested that the number of such deaths was “not enough.”
Police statistics attribute an additional 1,072 killings of alleged drug dealers and drug users to unknown vigilantes since July 1.
Dela Rosa stated that he did not “condone” extrajudicial killings, but he made no indication that those deaths – more than 20 killings a day between July 1 and August 19 – merited urgent investigation.
These killings suggest Duterte’s aggressive rhetoric advocating violent, extrajudicial solutions to criminality in the Philippines has found a receptive audience.
Last month he exhorted Filipinos who knew of any drug addicts to “go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”
This prompted the United Nations Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, to accuse Duterte last week of effectively granting the police and others “a license to kill.”
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.”
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.
Otherwise, it’s hard to envision when these killings will end.