The office of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is on the defensive after fresh allegations of corruption were leveled against his deadly drug war, claiming that police plant evidence at crime scenes, receive cash rewards for committing extrajudicial killings, and have largely been responsible for thousands of killings blamed on vigilantes.
"There is no truth in the allegation that there is a coordinated effort to kill drug suspects," the president's office said Thursday, in a written reply to questions from Reuters. "The so-called officers interviewed must be living movie scenes."
The report, published this week by Reuters, was based on the testimony of two anonymous Philippine National Police senior officers critical of the deadly campaign.
One of the men, a retired intelligence officer, also wrote an unpublished report allegedly based on the testimony of 17 active or retired officers that claims the drug war is a “social cleansing” effort that aims to eliminate drug addicts through “state-sponsored extrajudicial killings.” It also attempts to make the argument that the effort is rooted in the alleged “communist” sympathies of the government, a claim leveled against Duterte by police and armed forces sectors that the president's office has long denied.
Around 9,000 people, mostly poor drug users and small-scale dealers, have died in the deadly campaign which began shortly after Duterte assumed office last June.
"It is the Philippine National Police doing it," said the retired intelligence officer. "This killing machine must be buried 6 feet under the ground."
The report also alleges that not only drug suspects, but petty criminals and “troublemakers” — pickpockets, gang members, alcoholics, swindlers and rapists — are also targets, with a US$200 reward given to police who execute them.
The PNP claims that the report's claims are implausible because the PNP doesn't have such money at their disposal and upholds the law rather than breaks it.
"I hope they man up and not hide behind a white cloth," PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos told reporters Tuesday. "They are former and current members of the organization, there’s an established procedure. There’s a grievance committee. Hopefully they avail of this."
Meanwhile, a poll released Thursday by Social Weather Stations found that 73 percent of respondents are worried that they or someone they know could fall victim to an extrajudicial killing, often referred to on the archipelago by its acronym “EJK.”
“The fear is real. EJKs are a reality. The government’s attempt to massage its original data and/or re-introduce new and questionable data on the killings attributed to the drug war cannot hide this fact,” Senator Risa Hotinveros told The Philippine Star. “Our people are living in fear, among the ghosts of the drug war victims, without any semblance of justice in sight.”
The government and police have strongly objected to the term “extrajudicial killings,” claiming that no such phenomenon exists and that police killings are usually committed in self-defense.
The release of the report and the survey sheds light on the social costs of the government crackdown on illegal narcotics.
“Under the Duterte regime, alleged drug suspects from the ranks of the poor have been targeted for brutal killings while drug lords, their protectors in government, and ninja cops have gone scot-free,” national democratic youth group Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said in a March statement that blasted the “progressive posturing” of the Duterte government as bankrupt and deceptive.
Speaking to Reuters, one of the officers voiced a similar concern over the targeting of petty users and distributors.
"Why aren't they killing the suppliers?" he asked. "Only the poor are dying."