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Philippines Undercounts Recent ‘Drug War’ Deaths

Police Claim of 46 Killed Far Below Independent Monitor’s Figure

The mother of a "drug war" victim holds his portrait in her home in Caloocan City, Philippines, March 2022. © 2022 Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Tuesday sought to downplay recent killings in the so-called “war on drugs,” claiming the death toll since the inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was “very minimal.”

The police reported that 46 people were killed during anti-drug operations since Marcos took office on June 30. But this is far below the estimate of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center, whose Dahas program monitors “drug war” violence. The program tallied that 127 people were killed in “drug war” incidents from July 1, the day after Marcos was sworn in, to November 7.

Even if one accepts the PNP’s figures, calling this death toll “very minimal” smacks of insensitivity and callousness. Since the anti-drug campaign began seven years ago under then-president Rodrigo Duterte, thousands of families of people gunned down have been crying out for justice.

Over that period, the police have admitted killing more than 6,200 suspected drug users or dealers, mostly impoverished Filipinos. But the PNP has been known to manipulate its statistics on extrajudicial killings related to the campaign. Research by Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups found that police officers routinely plant evidence such as illegal drugs and weapons on the bodies of victims to try to justify their claims that the person had fought back.

Not only has the violence continued, but Marcos also made clear that he is not going to undertake a policy change regarding illegal drugs. In September, he said he wanted to focus on rehabilitation, but there is no evidence that the authorities have done anything to make such a shift. The government’s few so-called drug rehabilitation efforts currently underway are rights abusing, as they are involuntary, coercive, and expose drug users to further stigma.

During the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines earlier this month at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Philippine government made misleading assertions in its defense of its human rights record. But so far, all that has been forthcoming from the new administration has been inflated rhetoric masking empty claims. The government’s killing of 46 people is not “minimal” by any standard. It’s outrageous. Friends of the Philippines should not be fooled.

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