Drug war deaths worsened amid COVID-19 pandemic
MANILA, Philippines — At least 201 drug suspects were killed during the pandemic, data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed.
PDEA on Friday said that as of Aug. 31, 5,856 drug suspects were killed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war since July 1, 2016, but human rights groups claim that the death toll could be as high as 27,000.
The latest death toll is higher by 46 from the 5,810 deaths recorded in July 31.
“It is true that 155 deaths were recorded from March to July but out of that, 82 recorded deaths happened in Mindanao, which represents 52 percent of the total recorded deaths for the period,” PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva told the Inquirer in a text message.
From the 155 deaths, 46 deaths were added from July 31 to Aug. 31 this year, bringing the total death toll to 201.
Villanueva reacted to the Sept. 8 release of the New York-based Human Rights Watch that a total of 155 people were killed in antidrug operations from April to July 2020 during the pandemic, almost 50 percent higher than the 103 deaths recorded from December 2019 to March 2020.
“We cannot just make an intelligent analysis by just looking at numbers at hand without finding out what those numbers represent,” he told the Inquirer.
He said the “drug war in Mindanao is different from any areas in the country,” citing the death of five PDEA agents in an ambush in Kapai town Lanao del Sur in October 2018. He said “no one made a big fuss out of it.”
‘Tokhang’ to resume
Data from PDEA showed that a total of 176,777 anti-illegal drugs operations were conducted from July 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2020, adding that 256,788 drug suspects were arrested.
During a press conference in Quezon City on Friday, Villanueva said “Oplan Tokhang” would resume after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For now, it isn’t easy to deal with COVID. Right after the pandemic, we will start with the Tokhang,” he said.
Villanueva clarified that Oplan Tokhang means visiting suspected drug users in their homes and urging them to surrender and undergo drug rehabilitation.
The drug clearing operations by local government units slowed down due to the new coronavirus, Villanueva said.
“Our barangay clearing operations slowed down because of the pandemic. The local governments became busy because of COVID-19, so our rehabilitation program was stymied. But it will not stop us from clearing barangays,” he said.
The PDEA chief said he already talked to Police Gen. Camilo Cascolan, the Philippine National Police chief, to focus on curbing illegal drugs at the barangay level.
The latest numbers on drug war deaths released by the PDEA has proved that the war on drugs has worsened amid a global pandemic, an official of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
The death toll was also significantly higher compared to the number of reported deaths four months before the country was placed on lockdown in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. The average monthly death rate then was at 26, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division.
“This shows that the number of ‘drug war’ deaths recorded in August is almost double the number of average monthly deaths before the lockdown, which started in mid-March. What this shows is the police are treating suspects on their lists like sitting ducks who are pinned down in place by the COVID-19 lockdown and associated checkpoints and other restrictions,” said Robertson.
The increase of deaths brought by drug operations amid lockdown measures is another “clear reason” why the United Nations Human Rights Council should be allowed to investigate the reported human rights violations in the Philippines, he said.
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