(HRW) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted that his abusive “war on drugs” is unwinnable. Duterte told a gathering of military personnel that his promise to eradicate methamphetamine use – known as shabu in the Philippines – “won’t be fulfilled, that this [drug use] really will not end.”
But Duterte’s admission did not include expressions of remorse for the thousands of victims of his “drug war,” including dozens of children that he has dismissed as “collateral damage.” He instead echoed the message of his July 24 state of the nation address by insisting the campaign will be “unremitting as it will be unrelenting.”
Duterte was elected on a campaign platform that advocated violent measures, including killings of criminal suspects, to “solve drugs, criminality, and corruption in three to six months of taking office.” In January he declared that anti-drug operations would continue until the end of his term in 2022.
Duterte also recently backpedaled on his full-throated support for police killings of suspected drug users and drug dealers as proof of the “success” of his campaign. On Thursday, Duterte questioned estimates by some media organizations that the campaign had claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people. “They said I killed 10,000 people,” he said. “Who was the 10,000th victim? Where did the 9,999th victim die? Who? How did the victim die?”
Duterte’s questioning of death toll estimates coincides with an effort by both the government and the Philippine National Police in recent months to issue death toll statistics that are less than half of the official police figure of 7,000 drug war-related killings issued at the end of January. The government has frustrated efforts by media and other independent observers to maintain a verifiable and transparent tally of such deaths by issuing contradictory data. Earlier in August the chairperson of the official Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, stated that the “Actual number [of drug war killings] is certainly higher than what is suggested [by police].”
That means Filipinos face an indefinite and abusive “drug war” pursued by a government unwilling to accurately document the human toll of that campaign.
This report prepared by Phelim Kine for Human Rights Watch.