MANILA, Aug. 22 (UPI) — Legislators in the Philippines began an investigation into the killing of more than 1,700 suspected drug dealers and users since President Rodrigo Duterte took office seven weeks ago.
Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa told senators that 712 drug traffickers and users were killed since July 1 and that another 1,067 drug-related killings were being investigated, De.
The Senate human rights committee investigating the killings is headed by Sen. Leila De Lima, who has been accused by Duterte of illegal drug links.
“I am disturbed that we have killings left and right as breakfast every morning,” De Lima said.
“My concern does not only revolve around the growing tally of killings reported by the police. What is particularly worrisome is that the campaign against drugs seems to be an excuse for some law enforcers and other elements like vigilantes to commit murder with impunity.”
An advisory from De Lima’s office said, “The committee will hear and receive testimonies from witnesses of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, reports of concerned government agencies on the spate of killings, position papers of resource persons, look into results of investigations of concerned agencies, and come up with initial conclusions and observations for legislative remedy.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief who chairs the Senate’s committee on public order and dangerous drugs, says he wants to focus on drugs.
“I’d like to pick the brain of the police on the way forward, that is, the end state they have in mind, say, after six months of fighting illegal drugs, their way,” Lacson said.
Dela Rosa told senators at the hearing that the country has 3.7 million drug users and that the drug problem persists despite government’s efforts.
Since July 1, police have arrested 10,153 “drug pushers and users” in a “double-barrel” policy aimed at high-level criminals and street-level drug users, Dela Rose said.
More than 600,000 people have surrendered to police, he said.
Dela Rosa said if a policeman violates the law, even in self defense, “he will be investigated, prosecuted and accordingly punished.”
“The war on drugs should not be reduced to killings,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said. “We cannot play gods and decide whose lives matter and whose lives don’t. We must shift the focus in this war on drugs from vendetta to real justice, from shortcuts to reforms, from punishment to treatment.”
On Sunday, Duterte blasted the United Nations for criticizing the number of deaths.
In a late-night news conference, he said the Philippines might leave the United Nations and invite China and others to form a new global forum.
Foreign minister Perfecto Yasay said on Monday the Philippines would remain a U.N. member.
“We are committed to the U.N. despite our numerous frustrations and disappointments with the international agency,” Yasay told a news conference.