MANILA-- A local group sees no basis for claims that President Rodrigo Duterte's nationwide crackdown against illegal drugs is riddled with government-backed extra-judicial killings (EJKs).
"Those claims are unfair," said Arsenio 'Boy' Evangelista, spokesperson of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).
He acknowledged killings occurred amid Mr. Duterte's nationwide anti-illegal drugs crackdown which commenced last year after he won the presidential race.
That doesn't mean those occurrences were State-sanctioned, however, he clarified.
"It's very possible the killings' perpetrators are people at the illegal drug chain's middle level," he said.
He noted they may have either ordered or carried out the killings to prevent their lower-level accomplices from identifying and linking them to illegal drugs.
"Such most likely explains why the death toll is very high among street-level personalities implicated in illegal drugs," he said.
AO 35 series of 2012 ordered creation of an inter-agency committee on EJKs or extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons nationwide.
Operational guidelines for AO 35 define EJK as killing involving a victim who's either a "member of, or affiliated with an organization, to include political, environmental, agrarian, labor, or similar causes; or an advocate of above-named causes; or a media practitioner or person(s) apparently mistaken or identified to be so."
Such guidelines also identify an EJK victim as one "targeted and killed because of the actual or perceived membership, advocacy, or profession."
"The person/s responsible for the killing is a State agent or non-State agent" and "method and circumstances of attack reveal a deliberate intent to kill," the guidelines likewise read.
Around 2,692 people already died during 53,503 anti-illegal drug operations from July 1, 2016 to April 20 this year, showed Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency data presented in Metro Manila during this month's launch of the #RealNumbersPH information campaign.
Those operations also resulted in arrest of 64,917 persons and surrender of almost 1.3 million people who comprise almost a third of the estimated 4.0 million drug users nationwide.
"There's so much more to be done but we believe illegal drugs already met its match," said communications chief Martin Andanar.
President Duterte's crackdown against illegal drugs continues drawing criticism from local and international observers.
People must be careful in associating EJKs with such crackdown, however, noted Evangelista.
"Arbitrarily doing so will create the wrong public perception," he said.
He noted negative perceptions and opinions can adversely affect efforts to address the country's problem on illegal drugs.
Department of Interior and Local Government Asst. Sec. Epimaco Densing III also cautioned against arbitrarily classifying killings as EJKs.
"Use of 'EJK' has emotional meaning," he said, noting this acronym even agitates people in other countries.
Evangelista already sees initial success in the crackdown against illegal drugs nationwide.
"Number of index crimes in the country dipped - we consider that an indication of the crackdown's success," he said.
He noted a number of index crimes that occurred, including rape, were related to illegal drugs.
Authorities said government's crackdown already resulted in almost 29 percent reduction in index crimes nationwide.
They said almost 135,000 index crimes occurred during the July 2015-March 2016 period.
Such number shrank to 96,398 crimes between July 2016 and March 2017, however, they added.
Source: Philippines News Agency