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Philippine police chief blames drug suspects for spike in killings

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MANILA — The soaring number of killings by the police in the Philippines is being caused by drug suspects who choose to battle officers instead of surrendering, the nation's top police official told lawmakers on Tuesday.

"If they did not fight it out with police, they would be alive," said the national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who is heading the country's antidrug crackdown.

He said the number of deaths since the campaign began on July 1 had jumped to 1,916 — 137 more than the figure he gave senators on Monday, the first of two days of hearings devoted to the killings.

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He said on Tuesday that reports of killings came in daily from police units around the country. "As I was presenting yesterday," he said, "there were people killed."

Of the total dead, he said, 756 were suspects killed by the police and 1,160 were killed "outside police operations," many of them by vigilantes.

Eighty bodies have been found with cardboard signs proclaiming them to be drug dealers, he said. Not all the killings were drug-related, he said, and police are investigating.

The campaign to eradicate drugs, mainly methamphetamine, was started by the Philippines' new president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has made going after drug dealers and users his highest priority since taking office on June 30.

He has repeatedly called for eliminating drug sellers and addicts and gave the police shoot-to-kill orders when facing suspects who resist.

The president's campaign against drugs has broad public support, and dela Rosa said members of the public were pleased by what he asserted was an immediate reduction in all categories of crime once the police effort began.

The wave of killings, however, has come under attack from human rights advocates and some elected officials who contend that those accused of a crime should have a chance to defend themselves in court, not be gunned down in the street.

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The two days of hearings on the killings were held by the Senate's Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs.

New York Times