MANILA, Philippines – Police shot dead eight drug suspects this week, authorities said Friday, following repeated calls by president-elect Rodrigo Duterte for security forces to kill criminals.
Gunmen on motorcycles also murdered three petty criminals in Duterte’s hometown of Davao, police said, deepening fears of mass extra-judicial killings once the controversial politician begins his six-year term on June 30.
Police insisted the eight drug suspects were killed lawfully, with the officers only firing back after being shot at in three separate raids. One occurred in Manila, another near the capital and the third in a small town in the northern Philippines.
“There is no new policy to kill drug suspects. We have our rules of engagement and respect their human rights,” said Superintendent Teresita Escamillan, police spokeswoman for the Manila district where two of the suspects were killed.
When asked for comment, Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said all officers “appeared” to follow operational procedures on the use of force, based on the reports sent to headquarters in Manila.
Such deaths are not unusual in a nation where the police force has a track record of extra-judicial killings, and show the danger of the situation getting much worse under Duterte, according to rights group Amnesty International.
“We fear an erosion of the rule of law. Once that happens, the Philippines will become a Wild West and become totally ungovernable,” Wilnor Papa, campaign coordinator for Amnesty’s Philippine office, told AFP.
Papa said there were other worrying signals of an imminent breakdown in the rule of law, citing the recent offer by the incoming mayor of the major city of Cebu of bounties to police officers who killed criminal suspects.
Extra-judicial killings by soldiers, police, insurgents and vigilante groups were already among the Philippines’ most significant human rights problems, the US State Department said in its annual global human rights report last year.
“Concerns about impunity of national and local government officials, security force members, and powerful business and commercial figures persisted,” the report said.
Duterte won this month’s elections in a landslide largely on an incendiary law-and-order platform headlined by a vow to wipe out crime within six months.
He pledged to give security forces shoot-to-kill orders, and vowed that tens of thousands of criminals would die.
Duterte also variously denied and acknowledged links to vigilante squads in Davao, a major city in the southern Philippines that he has ruled for most of the past two decades.
Rights group say the death squads have killed more than 1,000 people, including children and petty criminals, and that no-one has been brought to justice for those deaths.
Three suspected petty criminals were killed in a single attack on Wednesday in Davao, according to the city’s police spokeswoman, Senior Inspector Milgrace Driz.
Up to five gunmen on motorcycles attacked the men on a street near a school, Driz said.
“Police records show these men were pickpockets and burgled cars,” Driz said, adding the deaths could have been due to gang warfare.
When asked if the so-called Davao Death Squads could have been responsible, she described them as a “myth”.
“They don’t exist, it is only you journalists who say they exist,” she said.
Commenting on the latest Davao killings this week, Duterte told a news conference on Thursday there would be no need to investigate if the suspects were involved in drugs, and that public security outweigh human rights concerns.
“What was their crime? If they had a different crime, we will investigate. Drugs, I am sorry…. I will not allow the (suspects) to go to jail for that,” he said.
“Are we here to protect public interest, public health, public safety? Or are we here to protect human rights?”
Since the election Duterte has also said one of his top priorities as president will be to bring back the death penalty, and he would seek to hang some criminals twice so that their heads would be snapped off.