Duterte gov't tally: 'Drug war' deaths breach 5,000-mark before 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Just before 2018 came to a close, President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs launched on July 1, 2016 has tallied over 5,000 persons killed, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

The PDEA’s latest count as of November 30 this year showed that lives of 5,050 people were claimed in the course of 115,435 government anti-drug operations, while 164,265 drug personalities have been arrested so far. Majority of the operations were carried out by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The list showed a continuous climb in number of deaths, with an additional 51 fatalities occurring in the past month alone. Prior to this, the government tallied 4,999 suspects killed in anti-drug operations as of October 31, 2018. ([WATCH] War on drugs: 'Nanlaban')

The PDEA's findings are part of #RealNumbersPH, which is the government's effort to counter what it called a "false narrative" on the war on drugs.

Along with the high death toll, the PDEA also recorded 606 government workers who were arrested in anti-drug operations. These were 280 government employees, 260 elected officials, and 66 uniformed personnel.

Why this matters: A hallmark of the Duterte administration is the President’s pledge to rid the country of illegal drugs. It’s a program that helped to propel Duterte to the presidency and one that he had vowed would be “chilling” and “relentless.”

But human rights groups have denounced the anti-drug campaign as law enforcers  have been accused of killing legitimate drug suspects who deserve a trial, or other personalities allegedly falsely accused through sketchy reporting systems.

Rappler earlier reported that contrary to public statements made by officials, the police appear to have outsourced extrajudicial killings to the Confederate Sentinels Group– a group they accused of murder in a press conference in February 2017. (READ: The Impunity Series)

The police have denied this. PNP spokesperson Benigno Durana Jr also gave assurances previously that any drug operation resulting in the death of a drug suspect would be immediately investigated.

Rights groups, meanwhile, estimate over 20,000 deaths – a tally which included vigilante-style killings.

The glaring gaps and pitfalls in the government’s anti-drug campaign have prompted the operation to be questioned before the Supreme Court, with petitioners seeking to have it declared as unconstitutional.

Before 2018 closed, a regional trial court in Caloocan found 3 policemen guilty of murdering 17-year-old Kian delos Santos – the first conviction of abusive cops in Duterte’s war on drugs.

No signs of stopping: Despite this, the anti-drug campaign is far from over. Data from the PDEA showed 9,503 barangays have been "cleared" as of end-November 2018.

There are still 22,641barangays that have yet to be "cleared" by PDEA.

The government has so far seized P25.19 billion worth of illegal drugs. Of this, was 3,294.44 kilograms of methemphetaime or “shabu” worth some P18.43 billion. – Rappler.com

Read previous stories on the government's tally on deaths from the 'drug war' here:

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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