The official death toll from Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war against drugs in the Philippines has risen above 5,000 people, officials said.
Derrick Carreon, a spokesman for the Philippine Drug Control Agency (PDEA), said that, according to official figures, between July 2016 and the end of November of this year, 5,050 lives were lost, mainly at the hands of the police.
The official figure is far below the estimates given by human rights groups and activists for the victims, which vary from 12,000 to 20,000. Many of the murders of undocumented persons, according to rights groups, were carried out by “death squads” and unofficial militias.
Last week, Chito Gascon, president of the Philippine human rights commission, said the figure could be 27,000, but stressed that the investigation into the deaths was complex because the police withheld records on anti-drug operations.
Although initially a popular policy, Duterte’s repression has been criticized for the number of murders committed by the police, to which the government has granted unlimited powers to carry out drug raids.
Carreon defended the increase in the death toll and said that the lives of police officers conducting drug raids are often under threat and that “of course, a proportional force must be implemented to repel the threat.”
“Any death is alarming,” Carreon said. “But anti-drug operations carry the greatest possibility of an armed encounter, especially if the suspect is armed and under the influence of illegal drugs.”
According to government statistics, there were also 164,265 arrests of “personalities of the drug” as part of 115,435 anti-drug operations throughout the country during the period of two and a half years.
Last month, a court found three policemen guilty of murder for the 2017 murder of a 17-year-old high school student, in the only conviction that derives from the policy so far.
“We assure you that the police, PDEA and all law enforcement agencies prioritize high-value goals,” he said. “But do not say that the activities of illegal drugs in the streets should not be neglected. They are also headaches for people in the community. ”
The international criminal court is carrying out preliminary investigations into Duterte to determine whether its war on drugs constitutes a crime against humanity.