Executions ‘rampant’ in Philippine drug war, U.N. probe needed: Amnesty

FILE PHOTO: Activists and families of drug war victims display placards during a protest against the war on drugs by President Rodrigo Duterte in Quezon city, Metro Manila in Philippines, August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

MANILA (Reuters) – Impunity and unlawful killings are going on unabated in the Philippines, three years into a war on drugs, with a pattern of executions under the guise of police sting operations and a state unwilling to investigate, a rights group said on Monday.

London-based Amnesty International urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to approve a resolution calling for an investigation into the Philippines, where there was a “perilous normalization” of illegal executions and police abuses.

A vote on the resolution by the 47-member council is expected later this week.

The exact number of dead in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs is impossible to independently verify, but many thousands have been killed, about 6,600 of those during operations in which police said suspects were armed and fought back.

Amnesty, in a report titled “They Just Kill”, said the authorities used “deliberate obfuscation and misinformation” to make it impossible to monitor the full extent of killings, which overwhelmingly targeted poor and marginalized communities lacking the means or support to mount legal challenges against police.

Amnesty’s report, compiled in April, focused on Bulacan province, the new epicenter of the crackdown, examining 27 killings there during 20 incidents, 18 of which were official police operations.

In three-quarters of incidents, those killed were on “watch lists” of people in communities with suspected use or involvement in drugs, Amnesty found.

It viewed those lists as unreliable and illegitimate “seeming to guide decisions about whom the police are targeting for arrest, or in some cases, to kill”.

Based on witnesses and other information, it concluded half were extrajudicial killings. It said the other incidents pointed broadly to previous patterns of executions, but it could not obtain sufficient evidence and information to be certain.

The police narrative that undercover officers posing as drug buyers had killed only in self-defense “doesn’t meet the feeblest standards of credibility”, Amnesty concluded.

Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said Amnesty’s basis for calling for an international investigation was wrong, and there were no such illegal killings.

“They are saying that there have been murders in this country as if all those who were killed in police operations have been intentionally slaughtered or killed,” he said during a regular new briefing.

“As we have repeatedly said, these are the result of legitimate police operations.”

Panelo last week described the call for a U.N. investigation as interference by foreign governments “misled by false news and untruthful narratives”.

(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Philippine police return to war on drugs, cannot promise to avoid bloodshed

MANILA (Reuters) – Police in the Philippines on Monday resumed President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, making visits to the homes of users and dealers to convince them to surrender, but the national police chief said he could not promise a bloodless campaign.

The announcement came as the justice department filed its first criminal case against police officers in the battle against drugs, bolstering human rights activists’ accusations of fabricated accounts of shoot-outs with drug suspects.

The program of visits, known as “Oplan Tokhang”, made a comeback with an assurance from police chief Ronaldo dela Rosa that it should be free of violence if offenders agreed to go quietly and did not resist.

But he could not promise a “foolproof anti-drug campaign that would be bloodless”, Dela Rosa added, as the police were “not dealing with people who are in their proper state of mind”.

In the dialect of Duterte’s southern hometown of Davao, “Tokhang” is a combination of the words “knock” and “plead”.

Besides the visits, police have also run so-called “buy-bust” or sting operations and raided suspected drug dens and illicit laboratories.

In many of these operations, say rights activists, suspects did not get the chance to surrender, but were executed in cold blood instead. But police insist suspects died because they violently resisted arrest.

Nearly 4,000 drug suspects have died in gun battles with police since June 2016, when Duterte came to power. The government lost 85 police and soldiers in the drugs war, police data show.

More than 1.2 million people had also turned themselves in after the home visits.

Duterte has stopped police anti-drugs operations twice due to questions over the conduct of the force, including the killing of a teenager in a supposed anti-drug operation.

On Monday, the justice department filed murder charges and two drug-related cases against three police officers who killed the teenager, Kian Loyd delos Santos, after witnesses disputed the police version of the killing.

National police spokesman Dionardo Carlos said the force welcomed the filing.

“The police officers have to face their accusers in court and prove their innocence, they have to follow the procedures,” he said, urging due process for the officers.

To ensure transparency, Dela Rosa invited human rights advocates, priests and the media to join the relaunched program of home visits.

The police officers involved would also undergo a vetting process to weed out “rogue” officers, said Dela Rosa, adding that past abuses had involved the police seeking bribes to drop the names of people from the lists they compiled.

“We are certainly hoping that it will be less controversial, because controversy will only blur the real intention, which is really the fight against dangerous drugs,” Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman, told a regular media briefing.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Philippine anti-narcotics chief warns of drugs war slowdown, police target assassins

FILE PHOTO: Relatives and loved ones of Leover Miranda, 39, a drug-related killings victim, hold a streamer calling to stop the continuing rise of killings due to the President Rodrigo Duterte's ruthless war on drugs, during a funeral march at the north cemetery in metro Manila, Philippines August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – The head of the Philippines’ anti-narcotics agency on Friday warned of a reduced intensity in the country’s war on drugs after a removal of police from the campaign, which he hoped would only be temporary as his unit lacked manpower.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino said he had only a fraction of the personnel and budget of police, and hoped President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to make his agency responsible for all operations would not be lasting.

“I know the public has high expectations but I am asking the public for understanding because of our limitations,” he said in a radio interview.

“I hope this is just a temporary arrangement, we need the police.”

Amid unprecedented scrutiny of police conduct, the mercurial Duterte issued a memorandum on Tuesday ordering police to withdraw.

The authorities said the shift in strategy was to go after big drug syndicates.

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa on Friday said police could now focus efforts on catching mysterious gunmen who were assassinating drug users, to disprove allegations by human rights groups that police were behind such killings.

Police say they have killed 3,900 people in their anti-drugs operations over the past 15 months and deny allegations by activists that many of those were executions.

Police say they used deadly force in each of those cases, because suspects were armed and had resisted arrest.


In a tirade on Thursday loaded with profanity and aimed at his foreign and domestic critics, Duterte said deaths during PDEA’s operations were far less than police, and hoped “bleeding hearts” would be satisfied with his decision.

PDEA’s Aquino said the public might notice a slowdown in operations. He planned to ask for a bigger budget, to add 1,000-1,500 agents a year until 2022, adding it was unrealistic to expect the PDEA to fight the problem with its small numbers.

PDEA has about 2,000 personnel, 1,100 of which are agents, compared to more than 175,000 police nationwide.

Amid anger over a high-profile kidnap and murder case involving police, Duterte suspended police from the drugs war in January and put PDEA in charge. He reinstated police soon after, saying drugs had flooded back to the streets.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, police chief Dela Rosa suggested Duterte’s shift in strategy might have been a response to opinion polls that showed some public unease about the crackdown.

A survey on Sunday showed a significant slide in Duterte’s ratings, but another one by a different pollster, released on Friday, showed he was still hugely popular.

Dela Rosa said police were winning the campaign, having cut the drugs supply, made 113,000 arrests and convinced what he said were 1.3 million people to surrender.

However, he said it was “not a total victory”.

He said police would concentrate on stopping the shadowy gunmen on motorcycles who were killing drug users, which police have often described as vigilante murders. Such killings are among the 2,600 murders since July last year that police believe may have been drug-related.

“People think these are also policemen, so I want these people stopped and arrested,” Dela Rosa said.

“We are intensifying intelligence, maximizing police visibility to stop these criminals. We have to shoot them before they can shoot their targets.”

(Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Michael Perry)

Most Filipinos believe drug war kills poor people only, survey shows

A witness to a recent teen killing linked to illegal drugs, wearing a sweatshirt and mask to hide his identity gestures while parents of the killed teenager, wearing bulletproof vests listen during the Senate investigation on illegal drugs at the Senate headquarters in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA (Reuters) – Most Filipinos believe only the poor are killed in their country’s war on drugs, and want President Rodrigo Duterte to reveal the identity of alleged narcotics kingpins and charge them in court, a survey released on Monday showed.

The survey of 1,200 Filipinos by Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted late in June also showed public opinion was split over the validity of police accounts of operations against illegal drugs that resulted in deaths.

More than 3,800 people have been killed during Duterte’s 15-month-old crackdown, all during police operations.

Human rights group say the death toll is much higher and the official figures overlook murders attributed to shadowy vigilantes. Some activists say unknown gunmen have collaborated with police to kill drug dealers and users.

Police and the government vehemently reject those allegations and accuse critics of exaggerating the death toll for political gain.

The high death toll in Duterte’s fight against crime and drugs, a key election plank, has stoked international alarm, although domestic polls have shown Filipinos are largely supportive of the tough measures.

The crackdown has come under heavy scrutiny of late, prompted largely by the police killing of a 17-year-old student on August 16. Two witnesses on Monday told a senate inquiry they saw police officers kill another teenager arrested earlier in the same area for robbery.

In both teen killings, however, police said the victims had violently resisted arrest. A third teenager arrested with the second victim was found dead with 30 stab wounds in a province about a three-hour drive away from the capital.

Duterte has several times brandished what he called a file on 6,000 alleged druglords at the center of the country’s trade. In the SWS survey, 74 percent of respondents said they wanted him to make that list public.

The survey also showed 60 percent agreed with the statement that only poor drug pushers were killed.

Duterte, who enjoys huge support among working class Filipinos, has been angered by critics who characterized his campaign as a war against the poor.

The survey also showed nearly half of respondents were undecided whether police were telling the truth when saying that drugs war deaths happened only when suspects refused to go quietly.

Twenty-eight percent said the police were lying but a quarter believed they were being honest.

The Philippines, extremely sensitive about foreign criticism of its drugs war, last week accused the West of bias, hypocrisy and interference after 39 nations, most of them European, expressed concern about the drug-related killings.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)

Furious Philippines decries West’s joint stand on drug war killings

Philippines 'President Rodrigo Duterte stands at attention during a courtesy call with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Ministers in Manila, Philippines, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Pool/Mark Cristino

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines vigorously defended its human rights record on Friday, accusing the West of bias, hypocrisy and interference after 39 mostly European nations expressed concern about thousands of killings during Manila’s ferocious war on drugs.

More than 3,800 Filipinos have been killed by police in anti-drug operations since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office 15 months ago and launched what he promised would be a brutal and bloody crackdown on drugs and crime.

Human rights groups say the figure is significantly higher and accuse police of carrying out executions disguised as sting operations, and of colluding with hit men to assassinate drug users.

The authorities strenuously reject those claims and Duterte insists he has never incited police to commit murder, despite his frequent and animated speeches about killing drug dealers.

During the periodic review on Thursday at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, 38 countries backed a statement by Iceland urging the Philippines to take “all necessary measures to bring these killings to an end”.

The signatories were mostly European countries as well as Australia, the United States and Canada.

Filipino diplomats in Geneva called it a “sweeping and politicized” statement, adding the country was willing to accept international help, but would not be lectured.

“Unfortunately, it still appears that some parties refuse to understand certain aspects of our human rights efforts,” Evan Garcia, head of the Philippine mission, in a statement issued by the foreign ministry on Friday.

“There is no culture of impunity in the Philippines.”

His deputy Maria Teresa Almojuela also weighed in by criticizing Western countries that allowed abortion, manufactured and sold arms and, she said, were a source of private militias for wars.

“It is ironic that many states joining the statement are the very same states that are the sources of arms, bombs, machines and mercenaries that maim, kill and massacre thousands of people all over the world, not only during their colonial past, but even up to today,” she said.

In Washington, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Iceland-led statement was “based on biased and questionable information”.

“Instead of engaging us constructively, some western countries would rather criticize and impose conditions as if they can do a better job than the Philippine government in protecting the Filipino people,” he said.

Opinion polls show Filipinos are largely supportive of the war on drugs as an antidote to crime the government says is fueled by narcotics.

The latest survey by Social Weather Stations, however, suggests that Filipinos are not convinced of the validity of official police accounts of the killings, with about half of 1,200 people polled doubtful that victims were involved in drugs, or had violently resisted arrest as police maintain.

John Fisher, Human Rights Watch director in Geneva, said the UNHRC should do more to stop the Philippine killing, now that there was a “growing chorus of condemnation” of Duterte’s signature campaign.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Half of Filipinos don’t believe police accounts of drugs war deaths: poll

Residents carry the coffin of an alleged drug dealer, whom police said killed in a buy bust drug operation in Malolos, Bulacan in the Philippines March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

MANILA (Reuters) – Around half of Filipinos believe many people killed in the country’s war on drugs were neither drug dealers nor violently resisted arrest as police maintain, according to an opinion poll released on Wednesday.

The survey of 1,200 Filipinos by Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted in late June also showed that 50 percent of respondents felt many victims were falsely identified by their enemies as drug users and pushers, and were then killed by police or shadowy vigilantes.

Thousands of mostly urban poor Filipinos have been killed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s 15-month-old war on drugs, either during police operations or by mysterious gunmen.

The crackdown has come under unprecedented scrutiny in recent weeks, due largely to the high-profile Aug. 16 killing of a 17-year-old student, among the 90 people killed in less than a week of intensified police raids. [nL4N1LA686]

The latest SWS poll predates those events. Forty-nine percent of respondents believed many of those killed by police were not drug dealers, and 54 percent felt many victims had not resisted arrest.

The survey suggests doubts among Filipinos about the official stance of the Philippine National Police, which states those killed in anti-drugs operations were dealers, and had refused to go quietly. Police say that has been the case in more than 3,800 incidents in which deaths occurred.

The poll also indicates some scepticism about the methods and effectiveness of intelligence-gathering and community campaigns to identify drug users in need of rehabilitation, some of whom, activists say, have been killed after their names appeared on “watch lists”. [nL3N1CD133]

Duterte’s crackdown has caused international alarm, though domestic polls have shown Filipinos are largely supportive and believe it has made the streets safer.

Duterte’s office frequently cites polls, including SWS, as a sign of his public support.


But presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella cast doubts about the accuracy of the latest survey, saying it contained “leading and pointed questions that may have unduly influenced the answers”.

“We expect pollsters to exercise prudence and objectivity to arrive at a closer approximation of public sentiment,” he said in a statement.

Activists accuse the PNP of executing drug suspects under the guise of sting operations, or of colluding with hit men to kill drug users, allegations the PNP vehemently denies.

Duterte’s political opponents say he has made bellicose statements that incite police to commit murder, which he rejects, arguing that his instruction to security forces has always been to kill only when their lives were in danger.

Only a fifth of those polled by SWS disagreed with the statement that police had killed many people who had posed no threat to them. A quarter were undecided.

Twenty-three percent of respondents believed those killed were drug pushers, as police report, and 27 percent were undecided.

Half of those surveyed believed false accusations of drug involvement were behind many killings by police, while 21 percent disagreed with that and 28 percent were undecided.

The survey showed higher percentages of those polled in Manila, which has borne the brunt of the drugs killings, felt many victims had neither sold drugs nor fought police, and were being falsely linked to the trade.

Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the survey results were not surprising given the “critical mass of compelling evidence” gathered by his group and investigative journalists, which had clearly demonstrated there was “an unlawful killing campaign under the cynical veneer of ‘anti-drugs operations’.”

(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Filipino bishops urge bell-ringing, prayers to protest bloody drugs war

A sign is posted outside a Catholic church which translates to "Let us pray for the victims of extrajudicial killings, bells will toll at 8:00pm" in Quezon City, metro Manila, Philippines September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – Stepping up a campaign against President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, Catholic bishops in the Philippines have called for church bells to be rung for the next 40 nights, and congregations to light candles and pray for the killing to end.

A pastoral letter by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) sent to priests urged Catholics to pray for victims from Saturday until All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, when Filipinos traditionally pay respects to the dead.

More than 3,800 people have been killed in anti-drugs operations in the past 15 months and at least 2,100 murders are suspected of being drug-related, according to police data, though human rights groups believe the numbers are understated.

“The relentless and bloody campaign against drugs that shows no sign of abating impels us, your bishops, to declare: In the name of God, stop the killings!” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of the CBCP, said in the letter.

Such messages are typically read aloud in church or distributed to their congregations.

Many Catholic churches in the capital have already started lighting candles and ringing bells for five minutes each day at 8 p.m..

Thousands of Filipinos rallied against Duterte on Thursday to protest against what they fear is an emerging dictatorship, and several churches held mass against the killings and urged people to renounce violence.

The bishops are among the most influential dissenting voices to come out against the Duterte’s uncompromising strategy.

Having been largely silent on the issue when it first erupted last year, priests have increasingly taken a stand against the anti-drugs campaign.

As bodies started to appear nightly in Manila’s slums, the church stepped up its opposition, denouncing the killings and in some cases, providing sanctuary to witnesses of killings and drug users who feared they could be targeted.

Villegas said the country’s bishops were firmly against drugs, but killing was not the solution and prayer was “the most powerful weapon in our arsenal”.

Rights groups dispute official police accounts that say drug suspects were killed because they violently resisted arrest. Critics accuse police of executing users and small-time dealers and planting evidence, which police reject.

Pablo Virgilio David, bishop in Manila’s Caloocan City, where large numbers of drug-related killings have taken place, urged the authorities to end the killings and let healing begin.

“We disagree that we should treat them like monsters to be eliminated like stray cats and dogs,” he said of drug users and criminals. “We disagree that a criminal has no more hope of changing his life.”

(Editing by Martin Petty & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Brazil army deploys in Rio slum as drug-related violence worsens

Armed Forces take up position during a operation after violent clashes between drug gangs in Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Hundreds of Brazilian soldiers poured into Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha slum on Friday in a bid to help the cash-strapped state government quell the drug-related violence that authorities blamed for at least four deaths and several injuries there this week.

The army deployed 950 troops in the sprawling favela, responding to a request from the Rio state government, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told local television.

In the past week, 60 criminals are believed to have launched an effort to dominate the drug trade in the area, not far from some of the city’s most expensive real estate, and shootings were reported there on Friday morning, according to local media.

The violence in Rocinha is one more sign of the backsliding since the launch of a “pacification” program in 2008 to reduce violence by pushing out drug gangs and setting up permanent outposts in the city’s more than 1,000 favelas.

Police struggled to maintain security gains in favelas in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio and have continued to lose ground as a fiscal crisis in the city and state lead to cutbacks in spending on police and other essential services.

The military operation in Rocinha on Friday disrupted transportation and businesses in the area, with some schools closing or paring back operations.

“I was going to work and suddenly the police closed off the tunnel in Rocinha and started to patrol with guns. There was a panic at the mouth of the tunnel and I saw people running and heard gunfire,” one witness told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

“I’m still shaking now.”

The outbreak of violence is happening in the midst of the Rock in Rio music festival at the far south end of the city, which has drawn thousands of people with musical acts including Fergie and Aerosmith.

Broadcaster GloboNews on Friday showed relatively calm scenes of matte green military trucks filing down roads into the favela, including soldiers riding on trucks and motorcycles holding assault rifles.

There are up to 10,000 troops in Rio de Janeiro who could be mobilized if needed, the defense ministry said.

“We’re not going to back off in Rocinha,” the governor of Rio state Luiz Fernando Pezao told journalists.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Jake Spring, editing by Tom Brown)

Philippine president’s Senate foes, allies vow to block budget cut for rights body

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his speech, during the oath taking of Philippine National Police (PNP) star rank officers, at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s critics and allies in the Senate vowed on Wednesday to block a lower house move to slash the annual budget of a public-funded human rights agency opposed to his bloody war on drugs to just $20.

The house, dominated by Duterte’s supporters, voted on Tuesday to allocate a 2018 budget of just 1,000 pesos ($20) to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which has investigated hundreds of killings during the president’s ferocious anti-narcotics crackdown.

Vice President Leni Robredo, who was not Duterte’s running mate and has locked horns with him numerous times, said the lawmakers’ move effectively abolishes the CHR, a constitutional body.

Duterte’s signature campaign has left thousands of mostly urban poor Filipinos dead. Critics say the lawmakers are trying to retaliate against the CHR for pursuing allegations of executions by police during sting operations, which police deny.

The CHR is among the domestic and foreign rights groups that Duterte frequently admonishes, accusing them of lecturing him and disregarding Filipinos who are victims of crimes stemming from drug addiction.

The upper house minority bloc, composed of six staunch critics of the president, will seek to restore the 678 million peso budget the government and a Senate sub-committee had proposed for the CHR.

Senator Risa Hontiveros described the plan to cut the budget to almost nil as “a shameless rejection of the country’s international and national commitments to champion human rights”.

Several allies of Duterte in the 24-seat chamber said they would scrutinize the house move and try to ensure the commission had a budget that would allow it to work properly.

Senator Richard Gordon said the CHR had a job to do and should not be restricted.

“That is their role – to expose possible abuses,” he said.

Another legislator, JV Ejercito said senators would not make the CHR impotent.

“The CHR is in the thick of things and very relevant nowadays and probably even next year and the years to follow because of what’s happening,” he said in a statement.

Duterte once threatened to abolish the CHR after its chief, Chito Gascon, sought to investigate alleged abuses by police anti-drugs units.

Duterte on Tuesday appeared to distance himself from the lawmakers proposing the meager budget. He said CHR was constitutionally created and should probe whatever it wants, adding he was “not here to destroy institutions”.

“He had it coming. He opens his mouth in a most inappropriate way. He knows nothing,” Duterte said, referring to Gascon.

“The congressmen are really angry. I have nothing against him. Give them a budget for all I care, whatever he likes to investigate.”


(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)


As anger simmers over killings, Philippine police do house-to-house drug tests

FILE PHOTO: Relatives and loved ones of Leover Miranda, 39, a drug-related killings victim, hold a streamer calling to stop the continuing rise of killings due to the President Rodrigo Duterte's ruthless war on drugs, during a funeral march at the north cemetery in metro Manila, Philippines August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Dondi Tawatao and Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine police were knocking on doors in one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods on Wednesday to encourage people to take on-the-spot drug tests, a campaign condemned by rights groups as harassment that could endanger lives.

Carrying drug testing kits, police officers accompanied by community officials were seen by Reuters going to houses asking residents if they were willing to submit urine samples.

Payatas, one of the most populated sub-districts, or barangays, in the capital’s Quezon City neighborhood, has been identified as a crime-prone area with a serious drug problem. Community leaders said they requested help from police, and testing was voluntary.

Dozens of Payatas residents have died during President Rodrigo Duterte’s ferocious 14-month-old war on drugs, which has killed thousands of Filipinos, many in what critics say are suspicious circumstances.

Residents say more than 300 of the 130,000 people in Payatas are already on a drug “watch list” drawn up last year by community leaders of known addicts.

Barangay watch lists are drawn up by community leaders to identify those in need of rehabilitation, but activists say some of those who appeared on them have become targets for assassination. The authorities deny the watch lists serve as hit-lists.

On Wednesday, Reuters saw a small number of Payatas residents lining up to be tested but the police did not say how many were found clean or to be drug users. Community leaders did not say what will happen to people who tested positive for drug use or to those who refuse to be tested.

“Our goal is to have a drug-free barangay this year,” Payatas barangay secretary Marlene Ocampo told Reuters, adding the village council agreed to fund and conduct free and voluntary drug testing, which could take four to five months.

“We only asked the police to help us and we are grateful,” she said. “We have more than 133,000 residents.”

She said there were no complaints, and many residents agreed to undergo tests.

“This is also good for us,” said Maria Luisa Valdez, a 37-year-old food vendor. “We are clean. We don’t do drugs so why would be afraid to take the test.”

The head of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, Edre Olalia, said police were on a “fishing expedition” to draw up a list of drug users, and doubted the testing was voluntary.


“It is presumably illegal and unconstitutional on its face especially when it is blanket, involuntarily and arbitrary,” Olalia said. “It violates the right to privacy and against self-incrimination and basic human dignity.”

“It is anti-poor and discriminatory,” he added.

Human rights groups stress that Duterte’s crackdown has overwhelmingly targeted the poor, and those killed are mainly drug users or low-level pushers from families with no resources to challenge official police accounts.

Quezon City police chief Guillermo Eleazar said the tests were limited to Payatas and police were only helping the community.

“These tests are voluntary,” Eleazar told Reuters. “We are not forcing anyone to do it, that is illegal and we will not allow it.”

The drugs war has once again been thrust into the spotlight after more than 90 people were killed last week during three nights of coordinated “One-Time, Big-Time” anti-crime operations.

The operations stopped when news broke that a 17-year-old high school student, Kian Loyd Delos Santos, was shot dead by police in a northern suburb of Manila, sparking public anger that prompted Duterte to order the officers be detained and investigated.

Police say Delos Santos was a drug courier who was armed and resisted arrest, but his family insists he had no involvement in narcotics and was murdered in cold blood.

(Editing by Martin Petty and Raju Gopalakrishnan)