MANILA: The bloody crime war that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives in the Philippines in just two months was dubbed a “success” on Sunday by a spokesman for controversial President Rodrigo Duterte.
Martin Andanar insisted many of those slain have been killed in “gang wars” and not by shadowy vigilantes encouraged by the president, as critics have alleged.
Duterte, who took office in June after winning election on a promise to kill tens of thousands of criminals, has vowed to press his campaign, despite growing international criticism.
“The police operations are a success. But there have also been gang wars or internecine (conflicts) where they eliminate each other,” Andanar told reporters.
He said such killings were under investigation by the police.
Andanar was reacting to police reports showing that more than 41 people were being killed each day under the Duterte administration’s anti-crime campaign.
By the end of last week, at least 1,466 people have been killed by police in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office, police spokesman Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said.
Another 1,490 are classified as “deaths under investigation” referring to people murdered in suspicious circumstances, many of them shot by suspected vigilantes or found dead with crude signs labelling them drug-pushers or criminals.
The government has insisted that those killed by police died because they resisted arrest.
However human rights groups charge that Duterte has been actively encouraging extra-judicial killings, telling police that he will protect them from punishment while urging civilians to kill drug pushers in their community.
The issue of the extra-judicial killings led to a spectacular falling out with US President Barack Obama when Duterte on Monday called the American leader “a son of a whore,” over the prospect that he would raise the issue during their meeting at a summit in Laos.
Obama cancelled his meeting but later told the fiery Philippine leader in a brief encounter that he should conduct his crime war “the right way”.
United Nations officials, human rights groups, local Catholic church leaders and some legislators have criticised Duterte’s harsh campaign, saying it is eroding rule of the law in the Philippines.