As Duterte takes reins in Philippines, drug trafficker deaths soar

More than 400 people believed to be linked to illegal drugs have been killed since President Duterte took office in June. Human rights groups and international drug authorities are calling for the killings to stop.

Czar Dancel/Reuters
Jennelyn Olaires uses her mobile phone as she sits beside the coffin of her partner Michael Siaron, who was killed by unknown assailants because he sold drugs, in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines July 28, 2016.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was buoyed to power in May on the strength of his promises to crack down on drug crime. In his first month of office, a violent crackdown has begun.

More than 400 suspected drug traffickers have been killed since Mr. Duterte took office on June 30, according to official statistics and independent estimates, with local news media putting the number as high as 465. Many of the deaths came at the hands of police. And the president has championed the rise in death toll – up from the 68 suspects killed by police from Jan. 1 through June 15 of this year – as proof of the “success” of his anti-drug campaign, saying in mid-July that “while the campaign against drugs is far from perfect, a generation of Filipinos have been saved from this scourge of society and destroyer of lives,” according to AFP.

But human rights and faith groups and the families of many of those killed say that state-sponsored violence, which has prompted 114,833 people to turn themselves in, as either drug addicts or dealers, has mainly taken its toll on poor Filipinos who are seldom given the chance to defend themselves from accusations, The New York Times wrote on Tuesday. 

Phelim Kine, a deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, told The New York Times that the vast majority of those killed were “not the wealthy and powerful drug lords who actually have meaningful control over supply of drugs on the streets in the Philippines.”

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations and international narcotics authorities to condemn the surge in violence, in a joint letter drafted by the International Drug Policy Consortium.

“International drug control agencies need to make clear to Philippines’ President Roderigo Duterte that the surge in killings of suspected drug dealers and users is not acceptable ‘crime control,’ but instead a government failure to protect people’s most fundamental human rights,” said Mr. Kine.

Some killings have been the work of unidentified vigilantes, who often leave handwritten signs next to their victims’ bodies labeling them as drug dealers. Duterte has openly encouraged vigilantism, and offered large bounties for anyone who turned in drug lords, dead or alive.

"If he fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him," he told a crowd in June in reference to drug dealers, according to CNN.

"Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun – you have my support.... Shoot him and I’ll give you a medal."

Duterte, a former prosecutor and mayor of Davao City, has been linked in to death squads that killed more than 1,000 people during his tenure as mayor. While on the campaign trail, he boasted of the safety of Davao's streets and promised to bring the city's curfew and smoking and liquor bans – along with the extrajudicial killings – to the national stage.

“If by chance that God will place me [in the presidency], watch out because the 1,000 will become 100,000,” he said in a May television interview

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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