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Philippines anti-drug campaign to go on

September 18, 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said his country's drug problem was far worse than he anticipated when taking office. Around 3,500 suspected dealers and traffickers have been killed in the last 10 weeks.

President Rodrigo Duterte
Image: Reuters/L. Daval

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday that his government may need to extend its bloody anti-drug campaign for six more months.

Speaking at a media briefing in Davao, Duterte said he was overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. "I did not realize how severe and how serious the problem of the drug menace in this republic was until I became president," he said.

Duterte was elected in May on the back of violent anti-drug rhetoric that promised to wipe out the country's illicit drug trade in three to six months.

"We would need time to put everything in order," he said on Sunday. "Give me a little extension, maybe of another six months."

'I cannot kill them all'

"Even if I wanted to, I cannot kill them all because the last report would be this thick," Duterte quipped, referring to a new, still unpublished list of mostly elected public officials linked to the illegal drug trade. The list reportedly includes many district leaders and mayors.

Earlier lists reportedly implicated military and police officials connected to drug trade, as well as lawmakers and judges.

Duterte also said he supported calls to postpone the upcoming district elections over concerns that drug money could be used to support the campaigns of officials conspiring with the drug trade.

Duterte's bloody war on drugs

Over 10 weeks, more than 3,500 suspected drug dealers and traffickers have been killed in connection with the Philippine's drug trade. A third of them have been targeted by police forces; the rest by unknown assailants allowed to behave as hit squads.

Around 600,000 drug users, addicts of a locally-made methamphetamine known as 'shabu,' have surrendered themselves to the authorities out of fear they might be killed.

Police cordon off a crime scene after a shootout
Police cordon off a crime scene after a shootoutImage: Getty Images/D. Tawatao

As mayor of Davao in the late 1980s, Duterte build a reputation for his violent approach to crime-fighting.

Senate told of executions

In September, a former Filipino militiaman, Edgar Matobato, testified before a Senate committee that, as Davao mayor, Duterte ordered him and other militiamen to execute criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults.

Matobato was the first person to admit to any role in the violent assaults directed at the drug trade, and the first to directly implicate Duterte under oath in a public hearing.

The attacks left around 1,000 people dead. The Senate also heard how in 2007 a suspected kidnapper was fed to a crocodile in the southern province of Davao del Sur.

International outcry over drug killings

Duterte's violent approach to wiping out the Philippine's drug trade has alarmed rights groups and has been openly criticized by US President Barack Obama. The US is a former colonial power and close ally of the Philippines.

However, Duterte has hit back at criticism of his bloody war on drugs, saying that critics are impeding his battle and that they do not realize just how severe the problem is.

Duterte has also denied any connection to the death squads, although he has openly stated that his approach to criminals was to "kill them all."

dm/jm (Reuters, AP)