PNP’s drug war death toll tops 4,500 before SONA 2018

Rambo Talabong

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PNP’s drug war death toll tops 4,500 before SONA 2018
Two years on, President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign remains unrelenting

MANILA, Philippines – Just before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 23, the number of deaths in his intensified anti-drug campaign rose to more than 4,500.

According to Philippine National Police (PNP) documents obtained by Rappler, 4,540 drug suspects have been shot dead in anti-drug operations, all presumed by cops to have fought back (“nanlaban”). The data cover the period of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018.

There were also 149,265 people arrested and 1,274,148 who surrendered, according to the PNP.

This does not include figures from operations of other law enforcement agencies like the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)

The PDEA’s #RealNumbersPH tallying initiative that was updated on June 30 gave a death toll of 4,354.

Along with the high death toll, some P14.66 billion worth of methamphetamine (shabu) have been seized in operations, weighing a total of 2,736 kilograms.

The campaign has proven to be fatal not only for civilians, as the PDEA counted at least 87 cops killed by suspects during drug busts.


Outside government agencies, human rights advocates peg the civilian death toll of the so-called “drug war” at over 20,000, which they say includes drug-related vigilante-style killings. 

Based on latest data from the PNP’s Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM), the PNP has only determined 2,668 of 23,518 homicides nationwide to be linked to narcotics, which to them means either the killer, the killed, or the motive is drug-linked.

In a statement on Sunday, July 22, the PNP downplayed the deaths, and instead played up the drop in crimes since Duterte became president.

Citing their data comparing the first two years of Duterte and the last two years of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, the PNP said all index crimes on average have dropped by 20.4%.

But the data show killings alone have increased from 2016 to 2017.

The rising death toll comes despite the PNP setting new guidelines for conducting anti-drug operations, like requiring cops to coordinate with the PDEA and encouraging them to record their operations as much as possible.

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde on Sunday said they seek to improve their campaign against drugs and criminality in the coming years by focusing on their internal cleansing program and by seeking help from the public. –

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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.