MANILA - At least 25 more drug suspects were killed overnight from late Thursday (Aug 17) to early Friday across metropolitan Manila, bringing to 85 the total number killed so far in the bloodiest week since President Duterte kicked off his anti-narcotics war last year.
The spike in the death toll came as Mr Duterte cheered on police involved in these “one-time, big-time” operations with promises of immunity, promotion, commendation, millions of pesos worth of rewards, and even a holiday trip to Hong Kong.
Human rights advocates and opposition politicians have condemned what they see as a disturbing escalation in extrajudicial killings. But the nation’s police chief said the drug raids will continue.
Police have yet to release an official tally, but the online news site Interaksyon reported that 18 were killed in a cluster of four cities known as the Camanava area, north of the capital Manila. Seven more were killed in Manila and Quezon City, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
These deaths added to 60 killed from Monday in Manila and adjacent Bulacan province in a renewed drugs-focused crackdown – dubbed by police as “one-time, big-time” operations – that Mr Duterte had praised.
On Thursday, Mr Duterte reassured law enforcers involved in these operations that they would not go to jail.
“If the police and the military get into trouble in connection with the performance of duty, you can expect, I really won’t agree for you to be jailed,” he said.
He said the deadly crackdown would continue without letup, as he threatened to have human rights officials, who would obstruct it, shot.
Police records show that about 3,200 alleged drug suspects have been killed in purported gun battles with police. More than 2,000 others died in drug-related killings, including attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen and other assaults.
Vice-President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition party, condemned the killings on Friday.
“We have been disgraced by this culture of impunity a long time ago… It should not happen,” she said.
Mr Chito Gascon, head of the human rights commission, said Mr Duterte’s threats against those pushing to investigate the killings “further exacerbate the climate of impunity that has characterised this administration”.
The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), which had in the past supported Mr Duterte, said the killings wont’t solve the drugs problem.
“Unless he addresses the roots of the proliferation of illegal drugs, especially in depressed communities, he may just be accumulating statistics without actually solving anything,” it said.
Defending the crackdown on Friday, the president’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said: “This is not a reckless exercise in bloodletting. (The goal) is to degrade community-based retail networks that will fuel the drug trade whoever is on top. This is a very focused effort.”