A member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) investigation unit shows confiscated methamphetamine, known locally as Shabu, along with Philippines pesos seized from suspected drug pushers during an operation by the police in Quiapo city, metro Manila, Philippines July 3, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

As many as 544 drug dealers or suspects have been killed since Rodrigo Duterte was elected Philippine President in May. The success of the ongoing anti-drugs drive and the subsequent fall in crime rates in the country is because of the fear that the “Punisher” Duterte will take extreme measures in uprooting the prevailing drugs menace. However, as more and more drug pushers are shot dead, people begin to wonder whether some innocents get killed in the process. Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa says drug syndicates are killing innocents and dumping their bodies in the streets to make it look as if police had done it    

MANILA–At 3.29 pm Friday, Joel Nider was shot dead by unidentified men in front of his restaurant in Baguio City.

A member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) investigation unit shows confiscated methamphetamine, known locally as Shabu, along with Philippine pesos seized from suspected drug pushers during an operation by the police in Quiapo city, metro Manila, Philippines July 3, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

That same day, in the same city, Nash Palomique and his companion were killed in a shootout.

In the nearby province of Pangasinan, Friday, two bodies were discovered and beside them was a cardboard with the message “I am a Pusher.” A sachet of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride was found beside one of the bodies.

Between July 21 and July 22 alone, 17 people were killed in the drive against drug dealers by the new Philippine government.

From May 10, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte was elected, to July 22, the number of drug-related fatalities either in police operation or by unidentified men stands at 544 based on the Death Toll of the War on Drugs compiled by ABS-CBN news organization.

Police data, however, showed that only 239 drug suspects were killed in police operations from June 30 (the day Duterte assumed office) to July 22.

In his campaign trail, Duterte had promised to eradicate criminality by focusing on corruption and illegal drugs.

He even promised to kill thousands of criminals engaged in such activities and dump their bodies in Manila Bay.

Early in office, he said what was left from his campaign funds will be used as reward to those who will kill or catch drug pushers.

Popularly known as “The Punisher,” Duterte was once accused of being on top of the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group responsible for the deaths of more than a thousand suspected criminals in Davao City where Duterte served as mayor for more than 20 years.

Duterte himself admitted that he was being criticized because his methods sometimes border on the illegal.

In a recent speech during a trip to Southern Philippines, Duterte, who enjoys 91% trust rating in a recent survey, said to the police and military not to be afraid in killing those involved in drugs trade.

He said: “All those you are executing as I ordered, it’s on me. Mine and mine alone … Don’t be afraid you might be charged. I take solace from my statement. I am there for you.

“This is what I have to say: Do your duty. If you are ordered for an operation against shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) and you face charges, I will be there. In the fulfillment of duty or in performance of your mandate, you will have my support 100%. I will not allow you to go to jail. I will be jailed first.”

Sometimes, wrong people may be targeted in the government’s war on drugs.

Jefferson Bunuan, 20, a Kaibigan Foundation scholar studying to become a policeman, and his cousin Mark were sleeping over at the house of Jomar “Totong” Manaois because there was no more space in their house as Jefferson’s sister just gave birth.

The women at Manaois’ house said police told them to leave the house while they were conducting an investigation. They said they heard Manaois surrendering and telling the police to leave Jefferson and Mark alone and then they heard gunshot.

The foundation denied the allegations against Jefferson, calling him a “shy and diligent student.” He even volunteered to the government’s “Lambat Sibat”, a program of the Philippine National Police (PNP) which aims to prevent crimes.

 “Don’t blame us”

PNP Chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa maintains that police are doing legitimate operations.

According to him, extrajudicial killings, where bodies are thrown everywhere with ‘drug pusher’ tags, are the works of drug syndicates themselves.

“We have received information that they [drug syndicates] are killing each other,” Dela Rosa told reporters.

Kaya ang patayan ngayon, sige kayo turo sa pulis, pulis ang pinagsususpetchahan nyo. Ang pulis naman ang ginagawa nila is legitimate operations. Yung gumagawa ng mga patayan na salvage, tapon dito tapon doon, kagagawan yan ng drug syndicates [The killings you see now, you are always pointing to the police but the police are only doing legitimate operations. Those who are salvaging suspects and throwing bodies everywhere, they are the work of the drug syndicates],” Dela Rosa said.

Police data show they have netted 3,213 drug personalities under Project Double Barrel while 112,902 drug dependents and 7,107 runners have turned themselves in.

The police claim a decrease in crimes as illegal drugs are related to other crimes happening in the country.

Dela Rosa said the criminals are panicking.

Alam nila si Presidente [Duterte] hindi hihinto hanggang hindi sila nakukuha o baka takot na gumawa dahil alam nila baka mamatay sila [They know the President won’t stop until they are all caught or [they are] afraid to do it [crimes] now because they know they might get killed],” he said.

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