The Philippine Senate and the official Commission on Human Rights (CHR) are undertaking what the new administration and the Philippine National Police (PNP) refuse to do: investigate the alarming increase in police killings of suspected drug dealers and users.

Members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) investigation unit check the body of one of the five suspected drug pushers killed in a police operation in Quiapo city, metro Manila, Philippines July 3, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

Senator Leila de Lima announced Wednesday that the Senate inquiry, to start in August, will focus on “specific cases of suspected summary execution” by police. The CHR has launched its own “test probe” of 103 suspected extrajudicial killings, including 33 deaths of suspected drug dealers and users at the hands of police.

These investigations are urgently needed. Philippine human rights groups have described a “surge of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug offenders” since President Roderigo Duterte took office on June 30. The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s twice-weekly “Kill List,” which tallies the killings of suspected drug dealers and users by police and unidentified vigilantes, records a “marked and unmistakable” rise in such killings – 420 deaths since Duterte was sworn in.

Official statistics support assertions of an alarming increase in police killings of drug-related criminal suspects. PNP data indicate police killed at least 192 criminal suspects between May 10 – the day after Duterte was elected – and July 10. That dwarfs the 68 killings of suspects that police recorded during “anti-drug operations” between January 1 and June 15, 2016. Police have attributed the recent killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” but have not provided further evidence that they acted in self-defense.

Earlier this month the PNP chief, Director-General Ronald dela Rosa, slammed the calls for an investigation as “legal harassment,” saying it “dampens the morale” of PNP officers. The same day, Duterte’s top judicial official, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, defended the legality of the killings and opined that the number of such deaths was “not enough.”

The Senate and CHR investigations will hopefully shed light on the circumstances of the recent increase in police killings of suspected drug dealers and users and help prompt the government and the police to ensure that criminal suspects are provide due process rather than summary “justice.”