As many as 1,300 suspects were killed in national police counter-narcotics operations during the first five months of 2019, the department said Wednesday, sharply revising its official death toll in the Duterte administration’s controversial war on illegal drugs to 6,600.
An average of 260 suspects were killed monthly between Jan. 1 and May 31, causing the national police to update the official death toll in the drug war from the 5,300 it had reported previously, department spokesman Col. Bernard Banac said.
“The increase was due to suspects putting up an armed resistance to the operatives,” Banac told BenarNews. “It does not mean that just because they died in police operations, we will not investigate it. As much as possible, no one should die.”
Forty-nine police officers were also killed and 144 others wounded since the anti-drug operations began three years ago, he said.
Human rights groups, however, have estimated a much higher death toll among suspects of between 20,000 and 30,000. Police have categorized many of those cases as “deaths under investigation” or blamed suspected pro-government vigilantes, who leave cardboard signs on their victims.
President Rodrigo Duterte launched the crackdown on drugs shortly after taking office in mid-2016. He vowed to dump the dead bodies of drug dealers and addicts and turn Manila Bay red with their blood and has since repeatedly urged police to shoot drug suspects.
While there have been some high-profile cases of politicians with drug links who were gunned down or arrested, the majority of those killed were poor people in urban areas. Despite the crackdown, drug smuggling has continued, according to officials.
In April, Duterte said it appeared that he would be leaving office in 2022 without ending the country’s drug scourge. He admitted that his drug war had failed but said the blame should lie with “narcopoliticians” flooding the market with illicit drugs.
“Drugs, I cannot control … even if I order the deaths of these idiots,” Duterte said at the time.
The Philippine president faces two murder complaints before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
The first was filed by a former policeman and a self-confessed assassin who alleged that Duterte ordered the killings of criminals and opponents when he was the longtime mayor of Davao city in the south. The second complaint was filed by relatives of eight people killed in the drug war.
Duterte withdrew the Philippines from an international treaty that created the ICC after initially saying he welcomed any probe into his war on drugs.