The administration's fight against illegal drugs should remain "unrelenting," Malacañang said on Wednesday, as the official number of deaths attributed to the campaign crossed the 5,000 mark.
Roundly condemned by local and international human rights groups, President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has killed at least 5,050 people since he took office in 2016, based on government data.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the figure is way lower than the "30,000 that is being spread by some false news agencies." Duterte himself said on December 5 that critics are exaggerating the death toll.
Rights groups have hit the government's official tally as too low, saying that the number of people killed is far higher than the authorities' count.
'Ang dami pala'
"The number of deaths occurring in drug-related cases will depend on the circumstances surrounding the arrest, the buy-bust operation. You know, I’ve been reading reports, and I’m even amazed at until now there have been many buy-bust operations all over the country," Panelo said at a news conference.
"Ang dami pala, nagugulat nga ako, so kailangan talagang the fight against drugs should be unrelenting."
Asked if the number could still increase until the end of the President's term in 2022, Panelo said: "It depends on how those involved in drugs will respond to operations against them."
"If they become violent just as early, the result will be violent, too. What you sow, you reap," he added.
Duterte earlier vowed that the anti-narcotics drive will be as "relentless and chilling" as the day it began in July 2016.
The President recently ordered all government agencies to take an “active role” in his anti-drugs campaign.
Issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on November 12, Memorandum Circular 53 provides that all government offices, agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations and state universities and colleges must “immediately mobilize their assets and take an active role in the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign."
“[T]he drug problem continues to degrade the moral fiber of society, undermining the rule of law and has evolved as a national security problem,” the circular said. — BM, GMA News