The Philippines' police head has said he will remain undeterred in his fight against illegal drugs. The announcement follows widespread criticism over the deaths of more than 1,000 drug suspects.
Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa confirmed that 756 people had been killed in police operations between July 1 and August 22, 2016. Most of the suspects reportedly died because they resisted arrest, Dela Rosa said.
"If they hadn't resisted arrest, they would be alive today," he told a Senate investigation into the deaths.
"Unless proven otherwise, I presume that my men are performing their duties properly," he said, referring to the ongoing so-called "double barrel" police campaign against drugs.
President Rodrigo Duterte has warned even his own legislators not to interfere in the violent crackdown
Dela Rosa said that there was no declared policy to kill drug users and pushers. However, official numbers of those confirmed to have died in the course of the crackdown are constantly being updated, with the Reuters news agency reporting that nearly 2,000 people had actually been killed.
The police chief also said about 300 of his officers were suspected to be involved in the drugs trade, warning this personnel will be fired and charged in court if found guilty.
Some of the killings have been blamed on corrupt police officers who allegedly attempted to wipe out drug peddlers in order to avoid the exposure of their own involvement in drug trafficking.
Dela Rosa also said that in addition to those killed during the police operations, 273 suspected drug users and pushers had been found dead. Some of those killed outside of police operations were found wrapped in duct tape while others were found with cardboard signs alleging their involvement in the illegal drug trade, he added. Nearly 12,000 suspects had also reportedly been arrested.
Some legislators, however, expressed doubt during the hearing that all of the suspects had actively resisted arrest, to which General Dela Rosa replied that people acting under the influence of illegal drugs could "do bizarre things at any time."
"This has a chilling effect," said Senator Frank Drilon after the police chief's deposition.
"We are all concerned about the number of deaths, by any language this is alarming."
A worrying crackdown
President Rodrigo Duterte, nicknamed "the Punisher," came to power promising to wipe out drugs and warning traffickers they risked death at the hands of the state. The president also warned legislators not to interfere with his campaign, saying they could be killed if they blocked efforts aimed at improving the country.
The United States expressed concern about reports of the killings, and the State Department urged Duterte's government to abide by human rights standards. The Philippines foreign minister had previously threatened to leave the United Nations over the issue, but later backtracked on that statement.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the United States and European Union members should make it clear to Duterte that inciting such violence was unacceptable and would "reap potentially severe diplomatic and economic costs."
Other foreign and local human rights groups have also condemned the rising death toll in the anti-drug campaign and have called for an end to the killings. They have also stressed the need for police to follow established procedures.
"We are not butchers," General Dela Rosa said in their defense, adding that more than 670,000 drug users and pushers had surrendered since July 1 under his campaign.
ss/jil (dpa, Reuters)