President Rodrigo Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs has claimed more than 1,900 lives in just seven weeks. Now the Philippine Senate investigates the drive. Ana P. Santos reports from Manila.
After his election as president, Rodrigo Duterte promised to end his country's drug problem within three to six months. More than 1,900 people have been killed in police operations and suspected vigilante killings since Duterte took office less than two months ago.
On Tuesday, August 23, the country's Senate ended the first in what will be a series of hearings looking into the nature of these killings.
"That’s about 33 people killed each day," said Leila De Lima, the head of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights. De Lima was also a former Secretary of Justice and the chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.
"While we fully support the drive of this administration against drugs, we want to make sure that laws, guidelines and protocols are followed, and human rights are being respected," she said.
Based on the data presented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) at the hearing, 756 people have been killed in police buy-bust operations and 1,160 "outside police investigation" or alleged vigilante killings.
"They fought back. They resisted arrest. If they didn't fight back they would still be alive," said PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa.
The alleged vigilante killings are currently being investigated.
Testimonies tell a different story
But the witnesses who testified at the hearings presented a different version of the story.
Harra Kazuo, 26, wearing a scarf around her head and dark glasses, said that her husband, Jaypee Bertes and her father-in-law, Renato Bertes, were killed while in police custody.
She admitted that both men used drugs, and her husband occasionally sold illegal substances.
"He made around 300 Pesos (5.70 euros) a day," said Kazuo.
Jaypee Bertes, she said, was already planning to surrender to the police when the security officers barged into their home, demanding that they hand over their drugs. They rummaged through their belongings and strip searched her two-year old daughter.
The two men were then taken into police custody. Police reports indicate that the suspects attempted to grab the gun of an officer on duty, which resulted in them being shot.
Forensic examinations show that the two men were beaten before being killed and were each shot at least three times. One shot hit the older Bertes on the top of the head, suggesting that his head was bowed at the time.
Another witness, Mary Jane Aquino, testified that her parents were both drug dealers and users. Aquino said her parents were planning to surrender to the police when they were killed.
Since then, she and her four younger siblings have been staying with relatives.
"That's why it is important to present the stories of these witnesses. What is happening on the ground is a combination of various situations which are all part of the drive against drugs," de Lima told DW.
The Dangerous Drugs Board estimates that there are an estimated 1.3 million drug users in the country. Numbers presented by the PNP during the hearing showed that 73 percent of the nation's villages were "drug-affected," meaning there are known drug users, dealers and traffickers or a drug lab or den operating in the community.
The war on drugs is widely supported by the public weary of crimes going unchecked. Despite criticism from human rights groups and the United Nations, Duterte enjoys a 91 percent approval rating.
Legislators expressed support for the anti-drug drive but had conflicting views on how it was being conducted
Throughout the two-day hearing, legislators expressed support for the PNP's anti-drug drive but had conflicting views on how it was being conducted.
One senator expressed concern that time spent at the hearings was "affecting momentum" and getting in the way of the police doing their job.
Others worried about the "chilling effect" the killings would have on the public.
"We might win our war on drugs but that will mean nothing if the citizens lose trust in the police and take the law into their own hands," said Senator Ralph Recto.
"We are not murderers. We are here to serve and to protect. We are not butchers who kill people for no reason," said PNP Chief dela Rosa towards the end of the hearing.
On Tuesday evening, a few hours after the second day of the hearings had ended, a TV news network captured an audio recording of an unarmed man shot by police as he begged for his life and tried to surrender.