Dispatches: Philippine Officials Shrug at Surge in Drug Killings
Police Admit Dozens Killed Since New President Took Office
By Phelim Kine, Asia Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch
Philippine National Police chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, provides cold comfort for Filipinos aghast at the surge in police killings of suspected drug dealers and drug users since President Roderigo Duterte took office on June 30.
Dela Rosa, on July 11, slammed calls for a Senate probe of those killings as “legal harassment” and said it “dampens the morale” of Philippine National Police personnel. Dela Rosa’s dismissal of concerns about the rising police killing body count of suspected drug dealers and users should come as no surprise with those familiar with the speech he made on July 2, when he warned that police officers linked to drug dealers should “surrender in 48 hours or die.”
Statements from other law enforcement officials in the Duterte administration show similar disdain for basic rights. Solicitor General Jose Calida, on July 11, defended the legality of the killings, saying that the number of such deaths were “not enough.”
The police have admitted killing several dozen suspected drug dealers and users in the first four days after President Roderigo Duterte assumed office. The Philippine Daily Inquirer is publishing a daily “kill list” and has tallied 72 police killings from June 30 to July 7 and an additional 35 such killings over the weekend of July 9-10. Police have attributed the killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” but have not provided further evidence that they acted in self-defense. That death toll compares with police statistics that indicate a total of 68 police killings of alleged illegal drug suspects from January 1 to June 15, 2016.
A credible and independent inquiry into the alarming increase in police killings is urgently needed, and the findings made public.
The rise in police killings follow Duterte’s June 30 inauguration speech when he identified illegal drugs as one of the country’s top problems and vowed his government’s anti-drug battle “will be relentless and it will be sustained.” Duterte gained notoriety during the campaign for advocating extrajudicial killings as a crime-control method, promising at one point the mass killings of tens of thousands of “criminals,” whose bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers, a nongovernmental organization that provides free legal services to victims of alleged human rights abuses, described the recent surge in police killings of criminal suspects as “apparent serial summary executions” and called for them to stop.
The spike in killings of drug suspects places an extra burden on the administration to ensure police act within the law. The government, starting with Duterte, should loudly make clear that the police need to respect the rights and protections of all criminal suspects all the time.