Despite brief lull, continuous drug killings observed

By Audrey Morallo

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London-based Amnesty International on Saturday claimed that drug-related killings are still happening despite the government's designation of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the lead office in the war on drugs. Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times/World Press Photo via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines — Drug-related killings are still happening albeit at a lower rate after President Rodrigo Duterte transferred the responsibility of the campaign to the government's anti-drug agency.

Amnesty International observed this trend, after having condemned it as "public relations" move, and said that for as long as suspects in drug killings were free the deaths would continue.

"What we are still seeing is that the killings are still happening. [T]he killings are still happening but the accountability of those who were ordered to kill has not been made possible," he said in a media conference Manila which will play host to a summit of regional meetings in the next few days," said Wilnor Papa, Wilnor Papa, Amnesty's Philippine human rights officer on Saturday.

Duterte issued a memorandum in October designating the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the lead agency in the campaign against narcotics, essentially relegating the police and the military to a supporting role, following vociferous criticisms over the mounting number of deaths in the government's so-called war on drugs.

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Papa reported that since the transfer of the responsibility to the PDEA the number of killings had gone down to five to nine a night from a high of more than 30. This high number could be attributed to the reward offered for the drug-related killings, he said.

He added that the hot spots where most of the killings happened remained the same, and these included Bulacan province, Caloocan City, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela, which Jose Noel Solano, section director of Amnesty Philippines, described as "killing fields."

Although the police are now adopting a hands-off policy on the government's ferocious campaign against illegal drugs, the methods of executing suspected drug criminals remain the same, according to Papa.

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"Even though the police are not tasked to do the ways are the same," he said, adding that before motorcycle-riding vigilantes are the ones gunning down drug suspects especially in the slums of Metro Manila where most of the residents are urban poor Filipinos living in extreme poverty.

 "They haven't really pulled out from the drug war. The ways they do it are still the same."

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Solano also warned that the drop in killings might just be a temporary "lull" in the campaign in order to diffuse the renunciation of the drug campaign following a string of teenager deaths in August believed to have been committed by cops conducting anti-drug operations.

"Sometimes maybe there are just looking for people to forget about it," he said, adding that the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week are a perfect way to divert the attention of people away from the problem.

"Unless there is concern and commitment in prosecuting those people who did extrajudicial killings in jail then after the lull it can comeback," he added, stressing the importance of earnestness in fighting the culture of impunity to ensure that the deaths would not return.

Solano said that US President Donald Trump should use American influence to ensure that the Philippine would abide by its human rights obligations.

"We will be extremely disappointed if he does not bring it up," he said.

Trump as well as leaders of more than 20 countries are expected to arrive in Manila this weekend for the ASEAN Summit and related meetings.

High on their agenda are concerns over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as well as nervousness over America's commitment to the region on the shadow of a rising and increasingly vocal China.

Rights groups are also calling on Trump to raise the issue of human rights in his five-nation swing in the region where many are displaying authoritarian tendencies.

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