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Human Rights Watch hits government inaction over new spate of drug-related killings in southern Philippines

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for failing to put an end to the bloody war on drugs campaign, which, it said, has “emboldened local leaders” to adopt violent measures.

HRW also warned against another surge of killings in the southern Philippine city of Davao after Mayor Sebastian Duterte, son of former President Rodrigo Duterte, declared a new war on drugs. 

In an event on March 22, Mayor Duterte told drug users that if they “won’t stop” and “won’t leave” the city, “I will kill you”.

A few hours after he made the statement, killings by the police during drug raids were reported. HRW said the police claimed the victims had “fought back,” a justification Philippine authorities have repeatedly used for years to legitimize killings in the drug war.

“Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte may have sparked another round of police summary executions by reenergizing his father’s abusive ‘drug war,’” said Bryony Lau, HRW deputy Asia director. 

“But the sad reality is that these killings never ended, and the thousands of victims and their families in Davao City and elsewhere struggle without a remedy or justice,” Lau added.

HRW has noted that the recent surge of killings in Davao City represents an escalation in an ongoing drug war. 

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According to a report by the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center, since Duterte’s tenure as mayor began in June 2022, Davao del Sur province has experienced the highest number of drug-related killings in the country, surpassing even the capital region.

The center’s data shows that out of 342 drug-related killings recorded between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, Davao del Sur accounted for 53 (approximately 15 percent) of these incidents. In comparison, Cebu witnessed 44 killings, while the National Capital Region, or Metro Manila, saw 43.

“The new spate of killings in Davao City and elsewhere shows that President Marcos has not done enough to end the ‘drug war,’” Lau said. 

“The Marcos administration needs to take stronger action to demonstrate that the ‘war on drugs’ is officially over,” he added.

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