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Drive must go on with due respect for rule of law

TO this day, there are disputes over how many have been killed in the ongoing campaign against drugs.

At one time, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Information Office said 3,151 were killed from July 1, 2016, to June 13, 2017.

The PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management gave these figures for the period from July 1, 2016, to March 24, 2017: 6,011 homicides, of which 1,398 were confirmed to be drug-related and 3,785 still under investigation.

Last January 31, 2017, the PNP reported: 2,555 “drug personalities” killed since the start of the campaign in July, 2016, followed later by 60 more.

Still another PNP report said 1,300 cases previously categorized as deaths under investigation were now classified as drug-related. There were 2,600 deaths in police operations where the suspects fought back and endangered the lives of the arresting policemen.

In March, 2017, a PNP spokesman said there were 2,600 drug suspects slain in actual police operations, while 1,398 deaths earlier related to drugs were now blamed on vigilantes.

Against these varying PNP figures, there have been “unofficial figures.” One article in a journal said the drug war “has claimed the lives of as many as 9,000 suspected drug dealers and users.” And then another writer reported: “The latest unofficial count has already placed the extra-judicial killings and other human rights incidents at 14,000.”

For months, most Filipinos were not much concerned about these wildly varying figures. It was enough that the government was acting on a problem that has grown over the years. But the police claim that the so many had fought back – “nanlaban” – began to look unbelievable as the statistics mounted. Hundreds of them fought back? Thousands?

Are not police men trained to arrest suspect with a minimum of trouble and take them to jail?

The Social Weather Survey (SWS) released last Wednesday reflected this growing public doubt. Fully 54 percent agreed with the statement that many of those killed did not really fight against the police. Only 20 percent agreed and about 25 percent were undecided. The survey was conducted June 23-24.

This was before 17-year-old Kian Loyd de los Santos was killed in a police operation on August 16 and before two other boys – Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman – were found dead later that month. If the survey had been conducted after those three deaths, the percentage of people doubting the police claim of “nanlaban” would very likely have been higher.

The survey findings, it must be stressed, is not a reflection on President Duterte’s campaign against drugs, only on the way certain policemen seem to have misused and abused it. The anti-drugs drive remains a great and worthy undertaking that must be carried out to correct years of inaction by previous administrations.

The campaign must go on but with due concern for human rights and due respect for the rule of law.