MANILA, Philippines – Philippine police, backed by troops, killed nine drug suspects and arrested more than 100 others in two days of raids that ended Thursday in a central province as the government pressed a massive crackdown that has left more than 4,800 suspects dead.
Regional police Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas said the nine suspects were killed separately in gunbattles with law enforcers in dozens of coordinated raids from Wednesday to Thursday noon in central Cebu province. Nearly 1,000 small plastic bags of methamphetamine, a banned stimulant, and 78 firearms were seized in the raids, he said.
"All nine suspects exchanged fire with my men after sensing they were dealing with undercover officers," Sinas said of the slain suspects, adding that law enforcers carried out 48 "buy-bust operations" in which undercover police pretended to be drug buyers.
Police said 103 of the 117 suspects arrested in the raids in Cebu have been linked to illegal drugs. The law enforcers served more than 70 search warrants in houses of drug suspects and 11 other search warrants for people suspected of illegally possessing firearms and ammunition, they said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said his war on drug will be "as relentless and chilling" as when he launched it after taking office in June 2016 despite facing two complaints for mass murder before the International Criminal Court and criticism from Western governments and U.N. watchdogs.
Human rights groups have cited much higher death tolls than the 4,854 suspects the government's Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said were killed in clashes with police between July 2016 and Aug. 31 of this year. They say many suspects may have been killed in police rubouts in which they were made to appear to have fought back by placing guns in their hands.
Duterte and police officials have denied condoning extrajudicial killings in the crackdown, although the volatile leader has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death. Since the crackdown began, more than 155,000 drug suspects have been arrested in more than 108,000 anti-drug operations, the government said.
Officials have cited the massive arrests to argue that many suspects have not died in police raids and that most of those who perished fought back and endangered officers. The deaths of mostly poor drug suspects are unprecedented in scale.