The official death toll from President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drugs campaign has surpassed 5,000, authorities said Tuesday.
Government data covering the period from July 1, 2016, when the campaign was launched, to Nov. 30 this year showed that 5,050 people were killed after allegedly resisting arrest.
A total of 164,265 "drug personalities" have been arrested during the conduct of 115,435 anti-drugs operations across the country during the reporting period.
Derrick Carreon, spokesman of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, explained that if the life of a government operative is in danger, as well as those of surrounding people, "naturally, commensurate force has to be implemented in order to repel the threat."
"Any death is alarming...but anti-drugs operations carry the highest possibility of an armed encounter, especially if the suspect is armed and under the influence of illegal drugs," Carreon told Kyodo News.
Human Rights Watch, among many watchdogs keenly observing the impact of Duterte's war on drugs, claims the actual death toll exceeds 12,000.
Despite international criticism and an impending probe by the International Criminal Court, Duterte has vowed to continue the campaign.
As of Nov. 30, over 3 tons of methamphetamine worth 18.43 billion pesos (about $347.5 million) has been seized by authorities in various raids.
Carreon said illegal drugs are either manufactured in or transited through the country, involving syndicates mainly from China, Africa and Mexico.
"We assure you that the police, PDEA and all law enforcement agencies prioritize high value targets...But let it not be said that street-level illegal drugs activities should not be neglected. They are equally headaches to the people in the community," he said.
Beyond the law enforcement aspect, the government is actively engaging local officials to help in the campaign. So far, 9,503 barangays, or village-size political units, out of 32,144 identified across the country as having been infested with illegal drugs, have been cleared. The Philippines has a total of 42,044 barangays.
Other agencies are also involved in the treatment of drug dependents who opted to surrender. The latest data showed some 303,533 individuals have graduated from rehabilitation programs.
"We would like to reiterate that the government's multi-pronged strategy to counter the illegal drugs problem does not only include enforcement, but rehabilitation and reintegration," Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael told Kyodo News.