Pubdate: Tue, 23 Aug 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Authors: Felipe Villamor and Richard C. Paddock


MANILA - Killings by the police and vigilantes in the Philippines' 
war on drugs have soared to nearly 1,800 in the seven weeks since 
President Rodrigo Duterte was sworn into office, the nation's top 
police official told a Senate hearing on Monday.

Under Mr. Duterte, who campaigned on a pledge to rid the country of 
drug dealers, 712 suspects have been killed in police operations, 
National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa said. Vigilante killings have 
totaled 1,067 during the same period, he said, although it was 
unclear how many were directly related to the illegal drug trade.

The numbers represent a huge increase over those cited by the police 
last week, when they put the total at more than 800 since Mr. 
Duterte's election on May 9. The new figures do not include killings 
that occurred between the election and his inauguration on June 30.

The police did not explain the sudden increase. Senators are expected 
to question them about the tally on Tuesday during a second day of 
joint hearings by the chamber's committee on justice and human rights 
and the committee on public order and dangerous drugs.

Mr. Duterte is said to have incited the wave of killings with his vow 
to eradicate crime. He has said the police should "shoot to kill" 
when they encounter members of organized crime or suspects who 
violently resist arrest.

Human rights advocates have been horrified by the killings, but Mr. 
Duterte's popularity has soared among a large segment of Filipinos 
weary of crime and enthusiastic about his pledge to rid the country 
of drug dealers.

Senator Leila de Lima, a longtime Duterte opponent who led the 
hearing on Monday, called on the government to end the killings.

"I strongly believe extrajudicial or extralegal killings, whether 
perpetrated by the state or by nonstate actors, must stop," she said. 
"Blatant disregard for human life has to stop."

Richard Javad Heydarian, who teaches political science at De La Salle 
University in Manila, said many members of the public were giving Mr. 
Duterte wide leeway to deliver on his promise to suppress the drug 
scourge within three to six months. Mr. Duterte's "shock and awe" 
approach reflects not only his commitment to eradicating drugs, Mr. 
Heydarian said, but also extremely high public expectations.

"The more fundamental question at this point is, why the seemingly 
unprecedented support for the new president despite global criticism 
of his uncompromising approach?" he said. "I think it largely has to 
do with dissipated public trust in existing judicial institutions, a 
sense that the normal democratic processes are not coping with the 
magnitude of the crisis."

In recent days, the president has lashed out at critics. On Sunday, 
he threatened to withdraw from the United Nations after two human 
rights experts from the world body urged the country to stop the 
killings. Mr. Duterte's foreign minister later said the Philippines 
would not take that step.

Last week, Mr. Duterte sharply criticized Ms. de Lima, calling her 
immoral and accusing her of receiving money from drug dealers, a 
charge she emphatically denies.

On Monday, the senators heard from two women whose family members had 
been killed by the police.

Mary Rose Aquino, who testified wearing a bandanna, sunglasses and a 
hooded sweatshirt so she could not be recognized, said her parents 
were found dead on June 20. Her father had been an informant for 
corrupt police officers who would raid dealers and take the drugs for 
themselves, she said. Sometimes the officers would smoke 
methamphetamine at their home, she said.

"I know who they are," she told the senators. "I can recognize their 
faces, others by their names. My father was a police asset who 
informed police what houses to raid. They would then resell the drug."

She said her parents had planned to get out of the drug trade, and 
she blamed the police for their deaths. She and her siblings have 
been hiding from the police since their parents died, she said, sobbing.

The senators also heard from Harra Kazuo, whose husband, Jaypee 
Bertes, and his father, Renato Bertes, were killed by the officers 
inside the Pasay City police station after they were arrested.

She told the committee that the police had been extorting money from 
her husband, a small-time drug peddler. She said he had been 
preparing to surrender to the police because he was afraid he would 
be killed. About 600,000 people suspected of being drug dealers or 
users have turned themselves in to escape being killed since the 
antidrug campaign began, the authorities have said.

Wearing large sunglasses and partly covering her face with a shawl, 
Ms. Kazuo told the senators that the police had beaten her husband 
and threatened to shoot him if he did not hand over his drugs, but 
that he had nothing to give them. The police strip-searched their 
2-year-old daughter looking for drugs, she said. Renato Bertes 
arrived in the middle of the commotion, and the police beat him for 
insisting they show him a warrant, she said.

"If you want, we can shoot you all here," Ms. Kazuo said one officer told them.

At the station, the police severely beat the two men, breaking her 
husband's arm, according to a forensic report. The police said the 
two had tried to grab their guns and escape. Each man was shot three times.

Ms. Kazuo, who is seven months pregnant, said she had visited them at 
the station before their deaths and had seen that her husband was in 
poor condition. He asked for a doctor.

"He was leaning on the bars and had a hard time standing," she said. 
"He had a difficult time speaking. That was the last time I saw them alive."

After the hearing, Chief dela Rosa said he was surprised by the 
women's testimony, which he said contradicted official reports. The 
Bertes case was rare, he said, because the two were killed inside a jail cell.

He said he would investigate Ms. Aquino's account of police behavior.

"I will not tolerate this," Chief dela Rosa said. "I myself will find 
these policemen." But he said the campaign against drugs would not 
stop, because the police had orders from the president to eliminate drugs.

"The police now have the momentum," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom