8 out of 10 Filipinos fear becoming victims of extrajudicial killings, survey says

Residents and police gather near the blanket-covered body of a man after he was killed, along with four others in Manila, Nov. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Nearly eight out of every 10 Filipinos worry they or someone they know will become a victim of extrajudicial killings, according to the latest survey.

Extrajudicial killings have taken an estimated 6,000 lives since Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency in May and began waging a vicious war on drugs. More than 2,000 of those deaths have been at the hands of police; the rest are the work of vigilantes.

“We really need to worry about the killings even without the survey results. Lawlessness is getting hold of the country, and it is getting out of hand. The government is no longer in control,” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

According to the survey, 45 percent of respondents said they were “very worried” of becoming a victim of extrajudicial killings; 33 percent were “somewhat worried.” An overwhelming 94 percent of respondents also said it was important for drug suspects be captured alive.

The National Capital Region Police Office claims to have arrested 13,281 drug suspects and killed 876 between July 1 and Dec. 13.

“This record will show that we are concentrating on arrest as the killed compared to those arrested are just about 6 percent,” Police Director Oscar Albayalde told Business World.

Respondents were also split on whether or not they believe police reports, which almost uniformly say the police killed in self-defense when suspects reached for an officer’s gun, raised their own firearm or resisted arrest.

Only 9 percent said that police were “definitely” telling the truth, while 19 percent said they were “probably” telling the truth. That sum is nearly equal to the 29 percent who believe the police reports are “definitely” or “probably” not true. Meanwhile, 42 percent remained unsure.

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Eyewitnesses have also disputed police claims of self-defense, and a recent investigative report by Reuters found that police “killed 97 percent of those they shot – 33 dead for every person wounded.”

“What our authorities are conducting are legitimate police operations that require observance of operational protocols,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said to Business World. “Police authorities who breach procedures are made to answer before the law.”

Yet, despite internal investigations into more than 1,500 drug busts since Duterte’s war began, no officers have been dismissed for misconduct.

In spite of all fears and reservations, 85 percent of the respondents were still satisfied with the drug war, with 88 percent agreeing that illegal drug use and distribution have declined since Duterte became president.

The survey was conducted Dec. 3 to Dec. 6, before Duterte admitted last week that he personally killed criminal suspects in Davao city, where he was mayor for more than 22 years.

“In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police]that if I can do it why can’t you,” he said to business leaders last Wednesday, according to the BBC. “And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

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His communications secretary issued a retraction on Friday, but hours later, Duterte confirmed his actions in an interview with BBC.

“I killed about three of them,” he said. “It happened and I cannot lie about it.”

A self-confessed former death squad member also testified before the Senate in September that Duterte “emptied two Uzi magazines” into a justice department agent. Duterte denies the testimony.

After his statement last week, talk of impeachment promptly began circulating. The U.S. also deferred sending the Philippines an aid package over human rights concerns – a decision to which Duterte responded bitterly.

Today the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement urging judicial authorities to investigate Duterte for murder as well as the “epidemic of extra-judicial killings.”

“It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer,” Zeid said. “As a government official, if he encouraged others to follow his example, he may also have committed incitement to violence.”

Duterte also admitted last week to abusing the opioid painkiller fentanyl, estimated to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Though he has since withdrawn any admission of drug abuse, he says he does take fentanyl for migraines, back pain and Buerger’s disease.

Many, including Duterte himself, have wondered if he can complete his six-year term, but officials assured media that he is “in the pink of health.”

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Joanne Lu

Joanne Lu is a South Carolina-based writer and editor dedicated to global development, poverty alleviation and social justice. After a year in Rwanda, she now covers the Asia-Pacific and economics. Find her on Twitter @joannelu or email joanne@humanosphere.com.