MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Leila De Lima on Monday called on a stop of the extrajudicial and vigilante killings, saying the campaign to combat illegal drugs is being used as excuse to legitimize murder.
In her opening statement at the Senate justice and human rights panel hearing on on the killings, committee chair De Lima said not all killings recorded were connected to drug operations. She said there are indicators that even law enforcers use the Duterte administration's "war on drugs" to get away with murder.
"My concern does not only revolve around the growing tally of killings reported by the Philippine National Police (PNP). What is particularly worrisome is that the campaign against drugs seems to be an excuse for some law enforcers and other elements like vigilantes to commit murder with impunity," she said.
"Mayroong mga nakikisakay at nakikisabay lang sa lehitimong operasyon ng kapulisan para makatakas sa batas at para pagtakpan ang kanilang partisipasyon sa kalakalan ng droga," she added.
De Lima said the Senate probe seeks to determine connections of killings nationwide and find out if they are perpetrated by organized individual groups inside or outside the government.
She said the panel's investigation also seeks to verify who the victims and perpetrators are, where killings occur, if there were investigations launched after the killings and which agencies handle the probes. The senator also wants to find out when the campaign against the illegal drug market will end.
"How many people need to die before we act to correct this alarming situation? Buhay po ng tao ang pinag-uusapan dito, hindi lang basta numero. Sa bawat natagpuang bangkay sa kalsada, may nawalan ng kapatid, magulang, at asawa, may naulilang pamilya, may gumuhong kinabukasan at pag-asa," De Lima said.
"I strongly believe: Extrajudicial or extralegal killings, whether perpetrated by the State or by non-state actors must stop. Blatant disregard for human life has to stop," she added.
The senator clarified that the hearing is not being blamed on the government, stressing that death squads are also not attributed to the government. She said the alarming figure of deaths alone warrants investigation.
"Hindi ko sinasabing ang lahat ng nagaganap na pagpatay sa operasyon ng mga pulis ay walang legal na batayan sa paggamit ng lethal force. Masyado lang marami ngayon ang napapatay sa mga engkwentro kumpara sa mga nakaraang panahon para hindi magduda kung nasusunod ba talaga ang rules of engagement," De Lima said.
De Lima cited that PNP chief police Director General Bato Dela Rosa mentioned 899 killings with links to drugs.
President Rodrigo Duterte has accused De Lima of having an affair with her married driver, who has allegedly received money from the drug trade on her behalf. The senator called allegation that she is linked to the illicit market an "absolute lie," daring the president's camp to show proof.