MANILA, Philippines - Philippines’ firebrand leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to crackdown on corruption and drugs in June 30, 2016, when he first assumed office, has waged a ruthless war on drugs since then.
A war, which according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), has seen 12,000 men, women and even children being killed in cold blood.
Governments in the West have slammed Duterte for what they call “extra-judicial killings,” and the HRW has alleged that many of the 12,000 people killed so far, were summarily executed.
Duterte has faced criticism from the international community over his extreme methods, that have included police encounters and attacks by unidentified assailants.
However, he has dealt with all criticism directed at his administration’s anti-narcotics campaign by employing his acid tongue and touting the success his hardline stance has achieved in leading the massive cleanup.
Since 2016, due to his bloody war on drugs, Duterte has found himself at the centre of attention in world affairs.
He has, however, continued his diatribe against all critics, and has verbally abused everyone from Pope Frances, the former U.S. President Barack Obama, and even the UN Secretary-General - who have all raised worries about his anti-narcotics approach.
The country’s police has taken responsibility for over a third of the 12,000 deaths in Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, citing self-defense during anti-narcotics operations.
Yet, the HRW has said that many of the deaths are a "major human rights catastrophe,” and have been a result of executions either in police anti-drug operations or by vigilantes believed to be backed by the police since the campaign started in 2016.
Even as drug war deaths continue to hound his second year in office, on May 2, last year, the Philippines government launched #RealNumbersPH, claiming that it was the official data on deaths, arrests, and seized drugs in connection with the war on drugs.
The country’s death count as of June 30, 2018 stands at 4,354 and is far lower than HRW's 12,000.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag has claimed that the #RealNumbersPH data does not include the number of homicide cases under investigation (HCUIs) as these were not directly related in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations.
Last month, Banaag said, “The HCUI data gets mangled by people who wanted to come up with their own numbers to contradict whatever data the government has. These numbers come from the different crimes that we see."
Further, PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Benigno Durana Jr. cited data from the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (PNP-DIDM) and said that last June, police recorded a total of 23,327 HCUIs, or an average of 33 deaths daily from July 2016 to May 2018.
Out of this number, only 2,649 were drug-related incidents while 10,594 were considered non-drug related.
Durana also pointed out that the motive for the 10,084 remaining incidents is still "unknown."
According to a recent international report, over 50,000 people have been arrested in the Philippines as Duterte turned his focus from drugs to minor infractions, which include drinking in public or "even being outdoors without a shirt.”
In June this year, the Philippines' brutal campaign against drugs shifted after Duterte said there were "simply too many crimes.”
A report in the New York Times quoted Adonis Sugui, an investigator at the police station in Tondo as saying that the idea is to target simpler "crimes" before they escalate into larger problems.
Sugui reportedly said, "They have a drink, they hold people up, shoot each other, cause mischief. ... Once they start drinking, their mind is altered.”
According to the report, a man who was arrested for not wearing a shirt, was charged with "causing alarm and scandal” and subsequently died in police custody.
The report noted that two inmates were charged with his murder.
It cited another case where a man identified as Edwin Panis was arrested for drinking beer in public with his friends.
Following the growing outburst over the campaign, Duterte reportedly said that he did not order police to arrest loiterers but just to break up their groups.
However, in an ominous warning, Jose Manuel Diokno, dean of the De La Salle University College of Law in Manila was quoted as saying in the report, "I think you can expect more repression, more confusion, more contradictory statements from the president. To the point that even his own people will not be sure what they should be doing."
Meanwhile, on Saturday, two days before Duterte’s third ever State of the Nation Address (Sona), the Malacanang Palace released a 68-page report detailing his administration’s achievements for the past year.
The document reportedly covers key achievements of every department from July 2016 to July 2017.
Releasing the report, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement that this year’s Sona would be different from the past two presidential addresses.
He pointed out that the Palace held three pre-Sona forums – “Tatak ng Pagbabago” – during which the administration’s accomplishments were spelled out.
Roque explained, “Traditionally, the Sona is a highlight of achievements of the previous year, but this year’s Sona is all about the essentials on what [the President] intends to do in the next 12 months of his administration.”
On July 23, Duterte is expected to deliver a 35-minute speech during the Sona.