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Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Directo

'Address drug issue without killing people'

Interview: Ana P. Santos, Manila
August 25, 2016

Senator Leila de Lima, a critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, talks to DW about the objectives of a Senate probe into alleged extrajudicial killings during the country's anti-drug drive.


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 hundreds of alleged vigilante killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Senator Leila De Lima, one of Duterte's harshest critics, is 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. In an interview with DW, De Lima talks about the anti-drug drive and the alleged extrajudicial killings.

DW: Why has President Duterte taken such an aggressive stance on drugs?

Leila De Lima: It is the way he does things. We appreciate his passion and his determination to tackle the drug problem in the Philippines. But we can certainly deal with the drug issue without killing people or at least keep the casualties to a minimum.

Critics claim that the previous administration - when you were the Secretary of the Department of Justice - should have tackled the problem? Do you agree with it?

That's quite unfair. No one can say that we did nothing to deal with the issue, and no one can accuse our government of proliferating the drug problem. We can only say that the initiatives taken by the last administration were probably insufficient.

We did address the drug problem in our country. But we were adhering to the rule of law. We did not have the daily killings that we see now. We can't try people without evidence and destroy their reputations.

Are you satisfied with the first two days of the Senate hearing?

Yes. We were able to present two witnesses out of the 11 available.

After the first day, people willing to testify contacted us via Facebook and by texting, and I asked my team to validate their stories.

We understand the magnitude of the problem. At the same time, we should also confirm the figures related to the suspected drug users and dealers. The number of people killed during the anti-drug campaign is also unclear. Yesterday, General Dela Rosa presented figures that were even higher than our estimates. It used to be just a little over 1,000, and now it's close to 2,000. We have not seen something like this. We cannot ignore the facts to justify the so-called war against drugs.

You've been engaged in a 'war of words' with the president. Does it affect your credibility to head this investigation?

I'm sure that is probably the intention to destroy my credibility, to destroy my name and reputation in the hope that they could break my spirit. That will not happen.

What's going to happen next in the probe?

We will have our next hearing, tentatively on September 5. We will present more witnesses, and I will interrogate them.

The stories of the witnesses vary. One deals with a father and son killed in police custody. This is a representative case linked to the killing of suspects in police detention or during police operations.

The second case is about parents who were accomplices of the police. The father used to accompany the local police in their drug operations. Then they would bring those drugs to their house for repacking. Our witness claimed she saw them smoking Crystal Meth on some occasions.

The other witnesses will also present other stories. What is extremely disturbing to me is - and that is the very reason why I insisted on the Senate inquiry - that we see that mostly the small-time drug dealers and users are being targeted. That is not the root of the problem.

I believe that in many areas the drug problem could be contained if the local authorities didn't have a role in it. This is not an indictment against the Philippine National Police as an institution. I am just talking about the rogue officers in the institution. The witnesses' accounts tell us that the integrity of the entire drug campaign is being affected because of these rogue officers.

Do you think this inquiry will influence the president?

I am sure the president would continue to be aggressive in his stance against drugs, which is good. But I hope he will not be close-minded and will accept that something is also wrong with the campaign.

The president must issue a categorical statement condemning the unjustified killings.

Meanwhile, jails are bursting at the seams and there are not enough rehabilitation centers, what can be done about that?

I intend to file a bill in parliament to propose solutions to address this issue. At the moment, our jails are not prepared for this. If the situation continues, we might have a humanitarian crisis.

The interview was conducted by Ana P. Santos, Manila.

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