By Froilan Gallardo
Another 46 suspected drug addicts and pushers have been killed since Philippine police launched anti-drug operation “Double Barrel Reloaded” in December, officials said Friday, contradicting earlier claims that the campaign would be bloodless.
From Dec. 5 through Thursday, police conducted 3,253 operations, leading to the arrests of nearly 5,000 “high value targets,” the national police said in a statement.
“Forty-six died in police operations [under] PNP’s (Philippine National Police) intensified Double Barrel Reloaded,” the statement said, using its operational name for the drug raids.
This week alone, police said 821 people surrendered during an operation known as Tokhang, a compounded Filipino term taken from the Tagalog words of “to knock and plead.”
The announcement from police came days after James Walsh, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, expressed guarded optimism over Philippine government pronouncements that it was carrying out its narcotics war with less violence.
Citing official police figures, the government claimed that 3,968 suspected dealers and addicts were killed from the time President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016 until November 2017. That number, combined with the 46 suspects killed since December, equals 4,014.
By comparison, only 3,200 activists were killed during the two-decade reign of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which ended in 1986.
The latest total does not include the killings of drug suspects found with cardboard signs hanging around their necks and saying they were drug addicts or pushers. Most of those deaths were blamed on vigilante groups, and the government has sought to distance itself from them.
Human rights groups claim that the death toll from President Duterte’s drug war is at least 12,000.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stressed that its figure was consistent with those of Filipino rights groups, including the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates. The politically influential Catholic Church has a higher estimate of about 13,000, according to the HRW.
Regardless of the varying tallies, the deaths were alarming and warranted an independent investigation, said Phelim Kine, a deputy Asia director for HRW.
“The Philippines can either ask United Nations assistance to investigate abuses in its anti-drug campaign or be the subject of a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution creating an investigatory body to do the job,” Kine said.
Duterte has often railed against foreign criticism of his drug war, including against Agnes Callamard, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.
Callamard has been seeking official government permission to conduct an independent probe, a request that has Manila has rejected several times.
Earlier this week, in a conference call with Asian reporters from Washington, James Walsh said the American government had reduced assistance to the Filipino police over alleged human rights abuses at the start of Duterte’s drug war.
But as a result of U.S. aid in human rights training, there appeared to be a lowering in the number of extrajudicial deaths in the Philippines, Walsh said.
On Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque welcomed Walsh’s comments, saying they offered a “hint of a growing appreciation of the positive impact of the administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign.”
Joseph Jubelag in General Santos City, Philippines, contributed to this report.