Report: Philippines blood-bath mostly committed by police who are paid bounties

Officials have insisted cops are involved in only about a third of the killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody crackdown, and only act in self defense.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, center, with Saudi King Salman on a state visit in April. CREDIT: Saudi Press Agency via AP
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, center, with Saudi King Salman on a state visit in April. CREDIT: Saudi Press Agency via AP

Police in the Philippines are paid $200 bounties for killing citizens suspected of drug addiction, pickpocketing, rape, gang activity, and other “troublemaking,” two senior officials tied to President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime have told Reuters.

The alleged bounties, which the wire service notes it was not able to verify on its own, are just one damning allegation of many contained in a report compiled by a former intelligence official who says he interviewed more than a dozen active commanders in Duterte’s police force. The report also says police themselves are responsible for many more of the roughly 9,000 killings carried out in the drug war Duterte launched upon taking office last summer.

“It is the Philippine National Police doing it,” the report’s unnamed author told Reuters. Official figures have attributed about 3,000 of the killings to police who were acting in self defense during raids and patrols, while the rest are attributed to vigilantes. According to the report, Reuters says, many of those “vigilante” killings are in fact carried out by police in disguise who know they will be paid bonuses for bringing in bodies.

Duterte has claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump is a fan of his work. “I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump,” the Philippines leader said in December. “And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.”

This account comes solely from Duterte. But Trump did take it upon himself to make the call prior to his inauguration, prompting ongoing speculation about how the Philippines strongman’s repressive, authoritarian approach might appeal to the Donald Trump Americans grew familiar with through the 2016 presidential race.

In political terms, Duterte’s bloody reign is an act of promise-keeping. He pledged a violent crackdown on drugs and street crime, was elected, and is now delivering. The sheer pace of the killings has been staggering ever since. Almost 2,000 were killed in his first two months in power. By Christmas, the figure was north of 6,000.

The question of who is responsible for which pieces of the bloodshed is important in determining how the international community might eventually respond to Duterte’s government. He has denied ever ordering killings, either as president now or from his former post as mayor of Davao. The official police statistics, which attribute only self-defense killings to uniformed officers, are important to upholding that claim.

Police claim they only kill after drug suspects open fire on undercover cops during “buy-bust” operations to catch dealers.

“There is no such thing as a legitimate buy-bust,” one of the active-duty police commanders who was a source for the intelligence official’s report told Reuters. “We have to plant the evidence for the legality of the operation” only after executing the drug suspects involved, he said.

The wire service’s inability to verify enough of the report to feel confident publishing it for readers is a red flag. So too is the author’s apparent concern with Duterte’s broader political program.

“The second half of the report is largely political in nature, asserting that Duterte has close ties to Communist forces in the Philippines,” Reuters notes — implying if not outright saying that it fears the information provided to it is intended in part to draw international forces to disrupt a political force that threatens to overthrow the economic order and political power of the Filipino establishment.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, has already said publicly that killings in the Philippines drug war appear to be human rights violations. The island nation is also a significant strategic piece in the increasingly complicated and edgy geopolitical balance in southeast Asia, as the Trump administration saber-rattles toward Pyongyang and fumbles for a coherent political — and business — relationship with Beijing.