Philippines: Death Toll in Anti-drug Crackdown Reaches Nearly 100 This Week

Felipe Villamor
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170818-PH-drugdeaths-620.jpg A revolver lies next to the body of a suspected drug dealer killed during a police anti-drug operation in Manila, Aug. 18, 2017.

Human rights groups and several lawmakers in the Philippines on Friday condemned this week’s bloody anti-drug crackdown after reports emerged that among nearly 100 people killed was a 17-year-old student who had been taken into police custody.

The boy, identified by police as Kian Loyd delos Santos, a grade 11 student, was among the suspected drug addicts and dealers killed in the so-called “one time, big time” police operations this week.

The boy’s father told a local television crew that his son was killed after being led away by police officers. A witness said the boy was handed a gun and told to run before the policemen shot him, according to the report.

“He was wearing boxer shorts. Can you put a .45-caliber in boxer shorts? Let us remain truthful,” the boy’s uncle, Randy delos Santos, told CNN-Philippines.

The week’s death toll has nearly doubled from 58 deaths Monday through Wednesday in the northern suburbs of Bulacan and Manila to 96 as of Friday, according to official police figures.

Police reported new deaths in several areas, including seven in the southern Cavite area, about two hours south of Manila.

The delos Santos case, if the complaints are true, runs counter to claims by police that those who died had fought with the officers.

Officers defended

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa defended his officers, saying the public should not be alarmed by the number of deaths because it showed police were combatting drugs and criminality.

Nonetheless, he said an investigation into the delos Santos incident would be carried out and if the officers were found to have committed a crime they would be punished. The three officers who were involved already were suspended, pending results of the probe.

“I want our policemen ruthless when it comes to operations against drugs, but they should not abuse their power,” dela Rosa said even as he stressed they were given instructions to “protect themselves” if attacked.

“All the operations are being carried out by our policemen with presumed regularity,” he stressed.


Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for a thorough investigation into the boy’s death and challenged Duterte for hailing his officers for the mass killings.

“This butchery does not deserve a pat-on-the-back from the president. It deserves an investigation,” Hontiveros told BenarNews.

She said Duterte’s commendation to police officers in the face of the mounting civilian death toll “reinforces impunity among our state forces.”

This week has been the most violent in Duterte’s drug war. It also comes shortly after police in the southern Philippines killed 15 people in a pre-dawn raid, including a city mayor placed by Duterte on a list of 150 public officials, police and military officers allegedly involved in drugs.

Since Duterte came to power in June 2016, about 8,000 drug pushers and addicts have been slain by police and unknown vigilantes. Activists warn that the figure would continue to climb.

The tough-talking Duterte, 72, vowed to end the drug menace in the country in two to three months or he would resign. He recently said he had underestimated the problem.

“The country paid a very dear price for the president’s error: at least 8,000 deaths. The Duterte government cannot kill its way out of the drug problem. This bloodthirsty attitude must end,” Hontiveros said.

House of Representatives member Edgar Erice said also spoke out against the killings.

“The Philippine National Police in its misguided war on drugs is now terrorizing our communities and collateral damage is unacceptable,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella defended the government’s drug war even as he promised that dirty cops found to be breaking the law would be made to answer.

He said the drug war “is not a reckless exercise of bloodletting,” adding, “there’s rhyme and reason in police operations.”

‘Words matter’

Commission on Human Rights chief Chito Gascon blamed Duterte for encouraging police to carry out the mass killings by promising he would shield them from human rights advocates and pardon them if caught and convicted.

“Words matter especially when uttered by the leader of the country or other senior officials such as the police commander,” Gascon told BenarNews. “These have consequences on the ground.”

Gascon said rights advocates had been alarmed by the continuing rise of the death toll, as he called on the public to question the killings, adding the pace and scale is unprecedented.

“There has to be a collective pushback … to change the public reaction to this,” Gascon said, referring to Duterte’s high approval rating a year into office. “Or we will see a ratcheting up of the body count.”


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