MANILA • Philippine police killed 11 suspected drug dealers in operations at the weekend, adding to a surge in drugs-linked killings since President-elect Rodrigo Duterte swept to power last month after promising to wipe out crime.
Mr Duterte's single-issue campaign of tackling illegal drugs and other crimes within six months, and his staunch advocacy of extra-judicial killings, appeared to have struck a chord with Filipino voters.
However, rights groups have rebuked him over concerns that he would live up to his nickname of "the punisher" when he is president.
More than 40 drug suspects have been killed since Mr Duterte's May 9 election victory, compared with 39 deaths recorded in the four months before it, said national police spokesman Wilben Mayor.
Mr Duterte takes office on Thursday next week, and has repeatedly reassured police that they would have his full support if they killed criminals who violently resisted arrest.
He has also warned that police found to be involved in the drug trade will suffer the same fate.
Speculation has been rife in Manila that some police officers involved in the drugs business were clearing the decks, before Mr Duterte takes office, by eliminating criminals who could implicate them.
But incoming national police chief Ronald dela Rosa said drug peddlers were killed in legitimate operations. "I would know if these people were killed in rub-outs," he said.
Philippine media reported yesterday that drug dealers were killed when they resisted arrest during operations in Manila, Laguna, Bulacan, Rizal, Bohol and Cebu at the weekend. Police said many that were killed in those raids and undercover stings chose not to go quietly.
"Our undercover agents killed two known drug peddlers in sting operations," said Rizal province police chief Adriano Enong. The region is just to the east of Manila.
"There was a shootout between undercover police officers and drug peddlers when the men sensed they had sold 500 pesos (S$15) worth of drugs to policemen," he said.
Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle conducted special prayers on Sunday, and urged incoming state officials to avoid a culture of death and reprisal. Those prayers will be read each day before the new government takes office in the deeply religious, predominantly Catholic country.
Catholic bishops have been disturbed by statements attributed to Mr Duterte warning of killings, and by his plan to try and bring back the death penalty, by hanging.
Mr Duterte has also said some journalists were killed because they were corrupt.
In southern Davao City, where Mr Duterte was mayor for more than 20 years, rights groups documented a total of 1,400 unsolved murders from 1998, most of them petty criminals and street-level drug peddlers. Mr Duterte denies any involvement.