Philippine police said they killed 14 suspected drug pushers and addicts Thursday in the central city of Cebu, a week after President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to extrajudicial killings in his two-year-old anti-drug campaign.
The latest deaths add to the estimated 4,500 suspects slain in alleged gun battles acknowledged by police. But rights groups claim that more than 12,000 suspects, including those slain by vigilantes, have been killed so far.
Lawmen killed one suspect each in three villages of Cebu City where they launched their operation, police investigator Antonio Din said. Six suspects who resisted arrest were killed in nearby city of Talisay while in the village of Malubong, also in Cebu, five more suspected drug pushers and addicts were killed in another police operation, he said.
“I don’t like to make any comment until and unless an investigation is made because it’s difficult that we haven’t heard the side of the police,” said Cebu city council member Raymond Arvin Garcia. “But at any rate, that’s an alarming situation.”
The intensified police operations came a week after Duterte for the first time admitted that extrajudicial killings had occurred in his government’s drug war. Rights groups said the comment could be used by investigators studying two cases lodged against him at the International Criminal Court.
Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, a former member of the House of Representatives whose law firm is representing one group of complainants, said “legally, the admission can be used against him as evidence.”
“Morally, he’s a man who knows what he is doing is wrong, a sin, yet he persists in these killings and in the thousands,” Colmenares told BenarNews. “President Duterte is beyond salvation.”
“We’re glad he made that admission in another of his unguarded moments as this is an evidence that the ICC should consider,” he added.
He challenged Duterte to claim before the ICC that what he said was just a joke, but the ICC, he believed, would not be “swayed with his recantation.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had defended the drug war before the United Nations, saying it prevented the Philippines from becoming a “narco-state.”
On Thursday, Jacqueline Ann de Guia, spokeswoman of the independent Commission on Human Rights, said Duterte had clearly recognized extrajudicial killings (EJK) occurred under his presidency.
“We harp again our call to address this problem by bringing all EJK cases to court and ensuring all perpetrators are made accountable and justice be given to all the victims and their families,” she said.
De Guia said that amid the culture of impunity in the Philippines, the government has a duty to protect its citizens rather than downplay Duterte’s pronouncement.
“This insults the grief and suffering of the families of victims, devalues further the lives that were lost, and trivializes the growing plea for justice,” she said. “We seek to remind that the prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people.”