US 'cautiously optimistic' on Philippine drug war 'trends'

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 30 2018 11:35 PM

The United States is "cautiously optimistic" that the Philippines' human rights record is improving as President Rodrigo Duterte presses on with his anti-drug campaign that has claimed around 4,000 lives in police operations, an official said Tuesday

Duterte has made the anti-drug campaign the centerpiece of his administration, urging policemen to kill drug suspects if they violently resist and promising to protect them from prosecution.

The brutal drug war frayed ties with Washington under former President Barack Obama who criticized Duterte's human rights record. 

But the Trump administration has been noticeably less critical.

In a telephone briefing, James A Walsh, a senior US drug official within the State Department, said there were signs of fewer extra-judicial killings (EJKs). 

"Many folks have been tracking the EJKs in the Philippines and the trends are going down so there is some encouragement that we are seeing in some of our human rights training working," the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement told reporters. 

"I would describe the United States as being cautiously optimistic in the trends when it comes to a good... appropriate way for a drug campaign," he added.

The government says almost 4,000 "drug personalities" have been killed by law-enforcement under Duterte. But human rights groups charge that thousands more have been murdered by shadowy vigilantes. 

The anti-drug campaign enjoys popular support while the fiery-tongued Duterte has rejected any criticism of his human rights record.

Walsh said that previously, the United States had "reduced our support to the (Philippine) police because of some of the human rights concerns".

He said the United States was still providing support in such areas as "drug demand reduction programs," rule of law and boosting maritime security.

Relations with Manila have improved markedly since the days when Duterte labelled Obama a "son of a bitch" for criticizing his drug campaign. 

Duterte said in a telephone conversation in late-2016, then- president-elect Trump told him that Manila was conducting its deadly drug war "the right way".

On wider regional drug enforcement issues, Walsh highlighted how synthetic opioids like fentanyl were a major focus for the US where a record 63,000 Americans fatally overdosed last year.

Much of the hugely powerful fentanyl -- and even more potent carfentanil -- hitting US streets came from China, he said, often shipped in the mail.

He said cooperation with Chinese authorities on the illicit trade had been "very good", singling out moves by Beijing to restrict some key precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl and better scrutiny of postal packages sent to the US from China. 

But he added: "There's a lot of work to be done"