'Nothing's changed': Watchdog says 'drug war' killings continue under Marcos

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The killings of alleged drug dealers and users continued even after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised a more compassionate approach in the fight against illegal narcotics, watchdog Human Rights Watch said in its latest report.

Marcos has said he would continue the ‘war against drugs initiated by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, but his administration would shift the focus to rehabilitating drug users.

HRW, however, said there was no letup in ‘drug war’ killings and the needed reforms have not been made to existing drug rehabilitation programs.

“The actual order which initiated the ‘war on drugs’ is still in operation in the Philippines. The reality is nothing has changed,” Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director, said in a briefing in Jakarta, Indonesia.  

Monitoring by Dahas, a program run by the Third World Studies of the University of the Philippines, found that at least 90 people had been killed in “drug-related violence” from June 30, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2022. 

Government figures showed that 6,252 individuals have been killed during anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to May 31, 2022. HRW noted in its report that the government stopped releasing these statistics after Marcos took office.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the death toll was at least 8,663. But human rights groups estimate the figure is possibly triple the number recorded by the United Nations agency.

End of ‘drug war’

HRW's Robertson stressed that Marcos “has a golden opportunity to prove that he is serious about human rights by ordering the end of the ‘drug war.’” 

The watchdog also urged the current administration to pursue accountability for ‘war on drugs’ victims.

“The authorities have seriously investigated very few ‘drug war’ killings. Only a handful of cases—12 out of thousands—are in varying stages of investigation by police or active review by prosecutors,” the report read.

There were only two convictions of law enforcers involved in the "drug war"—the murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos, and the torture and frame-up of 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo ‘Kulot’ de Guzman.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan has since pushed for the resumption of the investigation into possible crimes against humanity in the context of the ‘drug war’ as he argued that the Philippines has failed to demonstrate that it has sufficiently investigated killings in police operations.

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