Philippine Drug War Escalates, Leaving 80 Dead In One Week

The Philippines’ war against drugs entered its deadliest week yet, with police killing at least 80 people over the past few days as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing crackdown on drugs and crime.

According to the New York Times, 58 people were killed by police in just three days in Manila and its surrounding provinces. Between Monday night and dawn on Tuesday, 32 drug and crime suspects were killed in 66 separate police anti-drug raids in Bulacan province, north of Manila – the highest death toll in a single day since Duterte launched his war on drugs a year ago. On the second night of bloodshed, another 26 people suspected of drug-related crimes were killed by police gunfire in Manila. A further thirteen people were killed the next day.

Last week’s casualties are the latest in an ongoing campaign against suspected drug crime that began in June last year when Duterte was elected after promising to use deadly force to wipe out drugs and crime in the Philippines. The New York Times, citing police spokesmen in Manila and Bulacan province, described the spike in killings as the result of a “one-time, big-time” police operation to curtail drug and street crimes.

Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde, head of the police in the national capital region, told the Times that the high number of casualties was a result of the police carrying out their mandate, stating it “only shows we are not relenting on our campaign.” National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa added that the police only killed suspects who offered armed resistance. President Duterte was pleased with the results of the raids, saying, “if we can kill another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”

Others criticized the bloodshed. Philippine Vice President, Leni Robredo, described the killings as “something to be outraged about.” Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing Bayan movement, told Reuters, “the killing spree must stop even as we also demand a stop to the proliferation of illegal drugs.” He warned that “a fascist solution is doomed to fail,” and stressed the need for the Philippines to adopt “a long-term and thorough solution” to its drug and crime problems. Human rights groups condemned the killings, with Amnesty International describing Duterte’s war on drugs as reaching “new depths of barbarity.”

The latest casualties add to the growing death toll of Duterte’s war on drugs, and fuel concerns about human rights abuses in the Philippines. Human Rights Watch reports that Duterte’s drug war has so far resulted in over 7,000 deaths, 2,500 of which can be attributed to Philippine police and the rest to vigilantes. Human rights groups have characterized many of these killings as extrajudicial executions that disproportionately target the urban poor, and have accused Duterte of committing crimes against humanity.

Despite the concerns of human rights groups, many in the Philippines support Duterte’s war on drugs, telling news organizations such as the BBC that the streets feel safer because of the campaign. It is clear then that any attempts to stop Duterte’s bloodshed must focus not only on condemning the actions of the administration, but also on convincing Philippine communities that drug-related crime can be combatted without resorting to authoritarian means; otherwise, the tragic consequences of Duterte’s drug war will continue. One of the victims of last week’s raids was a 17-year-old high school student, who witnesses say was unarmed and may have been set up by police. If the Duterte administration refuses to respect due process of law and hold police accountable for misconduct, more innocent lives are sure to be lost.