Why do drug war killings persist? ‘This is not heaven,’ says PNP

Rambo Talabong
Why do drug war killings persist? ‘This is not heaven,’ says PNP
'This is the real world,' says PNP spokesman Benigno Durana

MANILA, Philippines – Deaths in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs will continue to pile up for as long as suspects keep fighting back, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Friday, August 17, as the number of people killed in the administration drive neared the 5,000-mark, based on the official count.

PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Benigno Durana made the statement in a Malacañang news briefing on Friday, when asked about the continued deaths  in the key Duterte administration campaign.

“This is not heaven. This is the real world, that people will die in the process,” Durana  said.

New numbers: According to Durana, there are at least 4,800 deaths in anti-drug police operations from July 1, 2016 to August 15, 2018. The PNP figures are not yet reflected in the #RealNumbersPH social card released on Friday, which covers deaths only up to July 31, 2018.

Using the outdated data alone, this means that on average, around 6 people are killed in police anti-drug operations every day since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.

There have been fewer deaths in police operations now compared to the early months of the Duterte administration, but the numbers continue to rise. Duterte said in his 2018 State of the Nation Address that the anti-drug campaign will be as relentless as when it began. (READ: Drug war: Killings continue, but fewer at police hands)

PNP says all fought back: Durana stressed that those killed are drug suspects who fought back. He reminded the public, “It is always assumed that our personnel are doing it (operations) the right way.”

“[That’s] 6 drug suspects per day, and you know, drug suspects can be armed, drug-crazed, heavily armed. So, in as much as possible as we want it not to be bloody, but [we’re] dealing with drug-crazed, highly-armed criminals,” Durana said.

There are cases, however, when those killed were neither drug-crazed nor highly-armed, like 17-year-old Kian delos Santos who was gunned down by cops after being dragged and forced to kneel in a dark alley in Caloocan City. Another is teenager Carl Arnaiz – based on an internal police investigation, cops “intentionally killed” him.

Rights groups claim higher numbers: Human rights groups, meanwhile, estimate that the drug war death toll has exceeded 20,000.

To prevent abuse in the anti-drug campaign, Durana said the PNP has intensified its internal cleansing program which involves probes initiated by counterintelligence and internal affairs policemen against their fellow cops. – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.