Duterte gov't tally: Nearly 5,000 killed in 'drug war'

MANILA, Philippines – Over two years since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his campaign against illegal drugs on July 1, 2016, nearly 5,000 people have been killed, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

The PDEA's tally as of October 31 this year showed that 4,999 lives have been claimed in the course of 113,570 government anti-drug operations, while about 161,584 drug personalities have been arrested so far. Majority of the operations were carried out by the 180,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP).

The latest figure shows a jump by over 400 deaths in about 3 months, as the government tallied 4,540 suspects killed in anti-drug operations as of June 30, 2018. (READ: At least 33 killed daily in the Philippines since Duterte assumed office)

The PDEA's findings are part of #RealNumbersPH, which is the government's effort to counter what it calls a "false narrative" on the war on drugs.

Why this matters: One of the campaign promises of President Rodrigo Duterte was to clear the country of illegal drugs. The PNP has been the administration's main weapon in what the President said would be a "relentless" and "chilling" operation.

But the PNP has been denounced for killing either legitimate drug suspects who deserve a trial, or other personalities allegedly falsely accused through sketchy reporting systems. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Police were even pulled out twice from the campaign: first in January 2017 after the killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo inside Camp Crame, and again in October 2017, after a string of controversial teen killings in Caloocan City.

The Duterte administration's anti-drug campaign is also being questioned before the Supreme Court, with petitioners seeking to have it declared as unconstitutional.

Gross underestimate? Responding to criticism, PNP spokesperson Benigno Durana Jr said human rights groups estimating that there have been 20,000 deaths are spreading "propaganda." That tally includes vigilante-style killings.

"It is a lie. Let's call a spade a spade…. [20,000] is too much of a stretch…. Hindi po totoo iyon (That's not true)," Durana said.

The PNP spokesperson sought to clarify that these deaths are what the PNP considers homicide cases under investigation (HCUIs), which Durana said are often "not in any way related to drugs."

He did concede, though, that some 2,000 of these deaths may be "somewhat related to drugs."

Durana added that deaths carried out by groups who claim to be linked to cops would also fall under HCUIs.

Rappler earlier reported that contrary to public statements made by officials, police appear to have outsourced extrajudicial killings to the Confederate Sentinels Group – a group they accused of murder in a press conference in February 2017.

Durana gave assurances that any drug operation resulting in the death of a drug suspect would be immediately investigated.

Not yet over: The PDEA's data also show the anti-drug campaign is far from over, with only around 8,935 barangays cleared as of end-October 2018.

There are still about 23,161 barangays that have yet to be cleared. (READ: New drug war deadline? 'Give me another year' – Duterte)

PDEA Spokesperson Arnold Carreon said the government will be able to clear all barangays, "provided all cooperate in preventing resurgence in already cleared barangays."

The rising number of deaths comes as Duterte signed the Philippine Anti-illegal Drugs Strategy (PADS) of the Dangerous Drugs Board last October 29.

The PADS targets the demand for the illegal substances, instead of targeting dealers. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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