The Philippines was “on its way to becoming a narco-state” when President Rodrigo Duterte took over as head of state on June 30, 2016, necessitating extraordinary measures to stop the drug menace.
Still, this does not mean the government has directed law enforcers to disregard human rights, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told Belgian and European Union (EU) officials in Brussels on August 25, 2016 at the sidelines of the Oslo peace talks.
“There was no government directive to disregard human rights. The use of lethal force is only necessary when the lives of the police in the buy-bust operations are in danger,” Dureza said in his message.
He noted that the war against drugs has resulted in the arrest of more than 11,000 suspected pushers and the surrender of more than 600,000 drug dependents who want to be rehabilitated.
But he lamented the fact that global attention is being focused on drug-related killings, which have reached around 760 since Duterte became President.
“The drug scourge is a problem that the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, will have to address primarily on its own. But since the illegal drug trade is international in scope, forces within and outside the country will do their concerted best to derail the momentum, using their vast resources. Regrettably, some quarters are unwittingly helping them,” he said.
Dureza said the most glaring of these attempts is when drug-related killings are “misframed” as “extra-judicial killings” (EJKs).
“Police authorities have been emphatic in differentiating the deaths that resulted when drug pushers used lethal force to resist arrest, and the deaths perpetrated by other elements, labeled as ‘vigilante killings,’” he said.
Dureza said attempts have been made to attribute vigilante killings to the President. “But as a lawyer and former prosecutor, the President knows the law thoroughly, and is aware of the limitations imposed by the law,” he said.
Around 760 people, most of them drug pushers, have been killed since Duterte took office on June 30, 2016. Media outlets, however, have lumped together those killed during police operations and those killed by unidentified assailants.
Dureza blamed drug syndicates for the latter. “The killings being internationalized as EJK are plain and simple murder. These are criminal acts, being committed by drug syndicates,” he said.
Dureza said no ordinary Filipino would go vigilante and that police authorities “have no reason to do so.”
“Only corrupt policemen are capable of doing such extra-legal killings: in the face of the intense campaign against drugs, those involved in the drug trade are trying to erase implicating links,” he said.
Dureza also pointed out that while the anti-drug campaign is being “miscontextualized” as about killing drug pushers, “the reality on the ground is that it has yielded more than 11,000 arrests, on top of hundreds of thousands of drug addicts who have come out on their own.”