Police officers secure the road leading to the House of Representatives ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), July 27, 2020 in Metro Manila, Philippines. © 2020 AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Last week, the Philippine government released new statistics on the country’s “war on drugs,” showing that police killed 46 people during anti-drug operations in August. Human Rights Watch had reported a more than 50 percent increase in “drug war” deaths during the Covid-19 lockdown, from April through July. The new data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s monitoring system, #RealNumbersPH, shows that the situation is getting worse. 

Based on #RealNumbersPH statistics, during the four-month lockdown, the average monthly “drug war” deaths totaled 39, a 50 percent increase from the four months before the lockdown, from December 2019 to March 2020, when the average monthly death rate was 26. August’s total of 46 reported killings is more than a 76 percent increase from the four-month average.

“Drug war” operations are typically carried out in urban areas in major cities, targeting impoverished communities that are facing the dual increased risk from the anti-drug campaign and the pandemic. During the lockdown, these communities have been hemmed in by police and local governments, with residents largely confined to their homes. They become sitting ducks for anti-drug raids by the police and their agents. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in June, put the number of “drug war” fatalities at more than 8,000 since the campaign was started by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2016. Domestic human rights groups and the governmental Commission on Human Rights believe the actual toll is triple that number. #RealNumbersPH, which only includes police killings and not those by gunmen linked to the police, puts the total killed at 5,856.

These numbers are horrifying however you add them up. That even more are occurring under cheerleading President Duterte, as Filipinos endure lockdowns, checkpoints, and quarantines in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 is further reason for the Human Rights Council to step in and investigate the country’s human rights violations. As long as the “drug war” remains official policy, the killings will continue and impunity will remain rife.