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Philippines court hears appeal over widespread killings of drug suspects

More than 7,000 people have been killed since Rodrigo Duterte came to power seven months ago and declared war against drug use. But one man left for dead survived; he has appealed to the high court for help.

Families of alleged drug dealers killed by Philippine police appealed to the Supreme Court on Thursday demanding that authorities disclose evidence they have linking their loved ones to drug sales. It is the first legal challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Lawyers for the families of four slain men, and one survivor, urged the highest court to scrutinize police operations, claiming that official accounts read like movie plots "from bygone days of Filipino cinema." They called police accounts "sheer incongruity."

The lawsuit accuses police of fabricating death certificates and incident reports to conceal operations taking place outside their jurisdiction.

Duterte's declared war on drugs has killed more than 7,000 in the seven months since he came to power. About 2,250 have been killed in anti-drugs operations and the rest are still being investigated. Police say many of those deaths are gang members killing each other, but critics blame many deaths on vigilantes, working in cahoots with police.

The widespread killings still have strong support domestically but have sparked an international outcry. Human rights advocates accuse police of acting with impunity in carrying out widespread summary executions.

Indeed, the current case before the court came about because one of five victims survived a deadly police operation in August by playing dead.

Not drug dealers

Efren Morillo denied police allegations that he and his friends were drug dealers or that they fought back during the police operation in a poverty-stricken district in Manila, according to the court petition.

Morillo's lawyer, Romel Bagares, and other petitioners also want the court to order police to stop threatening witnesses.

Morillo is a 28-year-old vegetable vendor, and the other four men were garbage collectors. He denies that he or his friends were drug dealers, or that they resisted the police.

Duterte has given police permission to use deadly force if suspects resist arrest. But Morillo claims his friends were shot execution style.

Three of the victims were ordered to kneel on the ground at the back of the shanty, according to the court petition. The last to be killed "begged to be spared, hugging the legs of one of the armed men and sobbing. As he would not let go of his hold, the man shot him on the nape."

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Morillo's petition argues that if the court prohibits such drug raids in these communities and helps him obtain police surveillance records and other documents, it will encourage relatives of other drug raid victims and human rights groups to take legal action against the anti-narcotics police.

Asked about the lawsuit, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said authorities had no involvement in extrajudicial killings and Duterte would allow the legal process to take its course.

bik/msh (AP, Reuters)

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