Philippine anti-crime crusade death toll hits 2,400

Filipinos looking outside a cordoned area following a police operation against illegal drugs in Manila, Philippines on Aug 28, 2016.
Filipinos looking outside a cordoned area following a police operation against illegal drugs in Manila, Philippines on Aug 28, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - The death toll from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody anti-crime crusade has passed the 2,400 mark in the less than three months since he took office, police figures showed on Sunday (Sept 4).

However, the majority of the killings of supposed drug dealers and other criminals were not credited to the police but listed instead as "deaths under investigation", which means vigilantes may have been responsible.

Police have killed 1,011 suspected criminals since Mr Duterte took office at the end of June, while there were another 1,391 "deaths under investigation", the figures showed.

Mr Duterte was elected in a landslide in May vowing to end crime and kill tens of thousands of criminals.

Since then, police have shot dead several drug suspects every day while other alleged criminals have been killed by mysterious gunmen or turned up dead with crude cardboard signs labelling them drug dealers.

Police have insisted they only act in self-defence and say the other murders are carried out by drug syndicates trying to silence their members.

The United Nations and rights groups have condemned the extra-judicial killings but Mr Duterte has shrugged off the criticism and vowed to press his campaign, which includes police carrying out door-to-door searches.

Last week, Mr Duterte declared a "state of lawlessness" following a bomb blast in his southern hometown of Davao that left 14 dead.

The measure gives the military extra powers to conduct operations normally done only by the police, officials have said.

Opposition Congressman Edcel Lagman said on Sunday that Duterte's declaration "unduly alarms the people", raising fears of a possible imposition of martial law.

"What has been happening unabated and with impunity are the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police authorities and their civilian cohorts," Mr Lagman said.

Critics of the crime war say security forces and hired assassins are carrying out mass murder, with people not involved in drugs also being killed amid a dire breakdown in the rule of law.