MANILA - The number of drug-related killings in the Philippines increased during the country's quarantine lockdown against the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
Some 155 people were killed in police operations between April and July 31, according to HRW Asia researcher Carlos Conde, citing official government data. This is a 50 percent increase from the 103 deaths recorded from December 2019 to March 2020, he said.
"The police and other agencies have been in the thick of the lockdown, the lockdown itself has been enforced by police. Poor communities who are pretty much stagnant, they’re basically sitting ducks there waiting for the police to come. They are constricted in their own communities," he told ANC.
The figure does not include killings by unidentified assailants, Conde added.
"These killings are not included in these figures. We can reasonably deduce here that the number is definitely higher. If you track the estimates by other human rights groups and juxtapose that with the figure coming from Real Numbers PH, it’s triple, even quadruple the number," he said.
"The killings by the police have not stopped during the pandemic and the killings by unidentified assailants who may be related to the drug war have not stopped either."
Philippine National Police chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan on Monday denied that extrajudicial killings were committed under the drug war.
Cascolan, an author of Oplan Double Barrel which became the PNP’s flagship program in the war against illegal drugs, earlier said he would go after high-value drug targets during his short stint as national police chief.
"There is no such truth when it comes to EJKs...Will the President sponsor state kilings? No. Will all other people in the government do that? No, I don't believe so," he told reporters.
"If there are really those kinds of cases...file a case hindi ba but of course I told you the first one to come to me we will investigate, we will do our part."
Conde called for an "institutional response" to drug-war related killings as Cascolan's appointment as PNP chief for 2 months would not "do much."
"It cannot be just one police chief saying 'lapitan niyo ko magsumbong kayo sa'kin.' It has to be institutional. The accountability needs to be institutional. And Gen. Cascolan’s statements unfortunately do not reflect that," he said.
Conde also said the data-sharing agreement between the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights was welcome but was part of government's "cynical attempt" to avoid international sanctions.
"This is part of the campaign to try to hoodwink the international community, the (UN) Human Rights Commission and International Criminal Court, into thinking that government is doing something," he said.
Some 5,810 drug suspects have been killed under the Duterte administration's anti-narcotics campaign, according to official data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
The UN Human Rights Commission, however, said some 8,663 were killed since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016. Human rights groups estimate the figure to be higher.
--With reports from Zhander Cayabyab, ABS-CBN News