The Philippines welcomed what a government spokesman described Thursday as “growing appreciation” by the United States of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
Southeast Asian neighbors, as well as China and Japan, had also expressed support for Philippine government efforts to combat illegal drugs, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.
“These efforts are anchored on respect for human rights, cognizant of our obligation to protect our people’s right to life and to live in peace and security,” he said. “And we wish to reiterate that extrajudicial killings never had – and will never have – a place in the anti-illegal drug campaign.”
Comments this week by a senior U.S. State Department official offered a “hint of a growing appreciation of the positive impact of the administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign,” Roque claimed.
Duterte’s crackdown on narcotics since taking office in June 2016 has left thousands of alleged drug pushers and users dead through alleged extra-judicial killings across the Philippines.
Police said official statistics show about 4,000 suspects have been killed in the drug war, but international rights watchdogs put the death toll at about 12,000. The official police figure does not include almost nightly killings of drug suspects blamed on vigilantes allegedly working for police.
Roque issued the statement two days after James A. Walsh, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, answered questions from reporters in the Asia-Pacific region in a conference call from Washington.
When asked comment on Duterte’s war on narcotics and the resumption of visits by police to homes of drug suspects, Walsh replied that when he met with the Philippine national police chief at the start of the crackdown, he conveyed American government concerns.
“[S]ince then we have reduced our support to the police because of some of the human rights concerns,” Walsh told reporters, according to an official transcript.
But, Walsh noted, extra-judicial killings in the Philippines were trending downward.
“[T]here is some encouragement that we are seeing some of our human rights training working. And so I would describe the United States as being cautiously optimistic in the trends when it comes to the appropriate way for a drug campaign,” Walsh said.
This week, the police department officially resumed its anti-drug campaign. Duterte had pulled the plug on police counter-narcotics operations last year after deaths of teenagers provoked widespread public criticism.
Duterte had given the lead role to a civilian drug enforcement unit, but in December reinstated the police force as the lead agency in operations. Earlier this month, five suspected drug dealers were killed and dozens arrested.