SWS: Majority of Filipinos see many abuses, killings in drug war

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A man is killed during anti-drug operations, better known as Oplan Tokhang. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — Three-fourths of Filipinos believe there have been many human rights abuses in the government's crackdown on illegal drugs although there are fewer drug users from three years ago, a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

Some 76 percent of Filipino adults said there were multiple violations of basic rights in the conduct of the war on drugs, according to the December poll. Of the total, a third said there were "very many" abuses in the anti-narcotics progra, while 24 percent said violations have been few.

Critics have pointed out that the drug war has been bloody, with thousands killed during police operations especially early into President Rodrigo Duterte's term. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency recorded 5,375 killed in police raids — much lower than the 12,000 estimate of non-government groups like the Human Rights Watch.

READ: 60% of Filipinos believe rich spared, poor killed in drug war – SWS

'Fewer drug users'

The same survey saw Filipinos admitting a big drop in substance abusers compared to July 2016, or when Duterte took office.

The poll showed 73 percent saw a decline in the number of drug users, 28 percent of which said the number had "fallen a lot." On the flipside, 14 percent claimed there are more drug users now, while 12 percent said the tally stayed the same from three years ago.

Despite Duterte's repeated verbal attacks against international agencies that have been decrying extrajudicial killings and other abuses in the drug war, 56 percent of respondents said they agreed with the United Nations Human Rights Council in deciding to investigate the Philippines' war on drugs. A fifth disagreed with the UN's involvememt, while 24 percent were undecided.

A July 2019 resolution approved by 18 countries in the 47-member body requests UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet "to prepare a comprehensive written report" on the Philippines to probe what they call a "murderous" drug war.

The Duterte administration responded by suspending loans and financing deals with states which backed the UN resolution, halting talks for two big-ticket projects with Germany and France.

The Robredo factor

The SWS survey came weeks after Vice President Leni Robredo's 18-day stint as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), which led her to conclude that the drug war is failing. She claimed that authorities only resolved 1 percent of the country's drug problem, while policies were lopsided in favor of law enforcement like police raids and buy-bust operations.

Some 44 percent thought the President was "sincere" when he appointed Robredo as anti-drug czar, which came after the Vice President's critique of the government's crackdown on illegal substances. Around 29 percent of adults were undecided, while 27 percent said Duterte was insincere with that gesture.

Among adults, 60 percent agreed that Robredo had the right to see the list of so-called high value targets held in confidence by authorities leading the drug war against 15 percent who said she shouldn't. She had been demanding to see the list during her time at ICAD, but she never got access.

‘I cannot trust her’: Duterte won’t give Robredo full access to classified information

Nearly half of respondents saw Robredo's ouster as ICAD co-chair as "an admission by the administration that its war is failing" against 21 percent who disagreed, leaving a net "moderately strong" score of +28.

The Vice President later on said that the drug war has been a failure as it only targeted small-time pushers and users, but failed to quash sources of illegal substances.

'Not surprised'

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Malacañang is "unsurprised" with the survey results as the drug war has been "demonized" by critics of the administration.

"These rambunctious peddlers of disinformation have associated the extra-judicial killings which are not state initiated, with the government's drug-related operations," he said in a statement sent Monday afternoon, insisting that the deaths from "Oplan Tokhang" were due to "violent resistance" by suspects involved in the drug trade.

"The Filipino people are assured that even as this Administration is resolute in enforcing our laws in eliminating illegal narcotics, we are equally decisive in protecting the human rights of our citizens. We are likewise determined to punish to the fullest state agents who abuse their authority," Panelo added.

The Palace official instead pointed out the survey finding that most Filipinos think the number of drug users has declined, dubbing it as "a genuine and meaningful change."