The uncounted dead of Duterte's drug war

The police say they have killed some 5,500 drug suspects in stings and other legitimate police operations in the past three years, and that unknown gunmen have killed more than 3,000 other drug suspects, amounting to a tenth of the nearly 30,000 homicides carried out in the Philippines since Duterte’s drug war began. (The police blame the drug-linked killings on narcotics syndicates; human-rights groups say these executions are often the work of off-duty cops or hired guns on the police payroll.)

An investigation carried out by the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism shows, however, that these figures are a gross underestimation of the extent of drug-related killings in the Philippines. The data we have collected—based on documents and reporting on homicides, as well as multiple visits to neighborhoods where the killings took place—illustrate how large numbers of killings of drug suspects, by both police and unidentified shooters, have been excluded from official counts: In three municipal areas of Metro Manila, the sprawling Philippine capital of 13 million people, our data show that half of all homicides recorded by the police were tied to illicit narcotics, contrary to police claims that only a small proportion were related to drugs. In addition, we found hundreds of homicides that were not on the police record at all.

This discrepancy goes beyond a question of correctly labeling or reporting incidents of violence, and instead points to concerns about how this war on drugs is being carried out. Is what is taking place in the Philippines an anti-crime campaign, or something darker, in which large numbers of people are being denied due process, targeted for assassination, and offered little in the way of help to quit drug use, while the underlying issues driving the problem are left unaddressed? Filipinos themselves said soon after Duterte took office that, while they applauded the push against narcotics, it was important that suspects be arrested, not killed.

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