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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Philippine police kill 32 in single day during 'shock and awe' drug raids

It is the highest death toll in a single day since Mr Duterte launched an unprecedented crackdown on drugs 14 months ago.

Bulacan police chief Romeo Caramat gestures during a press conference at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Manila on August 16, 2017. Noel Celis / AFP
Bulacan police chief Romeo Caramat gestures during a press conference at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Manila on August 16, 2017. Noel Celis / AFP

Philippine police killed 32 people in "shock and awe" raids aimed at scaring drug traffickers, authorities said on Wednesday, after president Rodrigo Duterte admitted to setbacks in his controversial crime war.

It is the highest death toll in a single day since Mr Duterte launched an unprecedented crackdown on drugs 14 months ago.

The campaign has seen police and suspected vigilantes kill thousands of people, leading to warnings by rights groups that he may be overseeing a crime against humanity.

Police reported killing 32 people in a series of raids on Monday on suspected drug traffickers across Bulacan province, which neighbours the capital of Manila.

"We wanted to shock and awe these drug personalities," Romeo Caramat, the Bulacan police chief, said in Manila on Wednesday, adding 109 suspects had also been arrested.

"Other drug personalities will think twice before continuing with their drug trade."

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Police records show that since the nationwide crackdown started, more than 3,200 alleged drug offenders have been killed in gunbattles with law enforcers. More than 2,000 others died in drug-related homicides, including attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen and other assaults.

Human rights groups report a higher toll and demand an independent investigation into Mr Duterte's possible role in the violence.

Mr Caramat insisted police had only killed the suspects in self defence, and highlighted in the press conference that pistols and grenades had been seized in the raids.

"We know we have done nothing wrong," he said. He later said no police had been killed or wounded.

When asked how it was possible there had been no police wounded if the raiding officers had been acting in self defence when killing 32 people, Mr Caramat said: "Don't ask me to explain".

Mr Duterte easily won last year's presidential election largely on a vow to kill tens of thousands of drug traffickers and addicts, which he said was necessary to stop the country's slide to narco-state status.

He promised during the campaign he would win his drug war in three to six months, a vow that resonated with voters fed up with high crime rates and corrupt politicians.

But Mr Duterte, who is limited by the constitution to serving a single term of six years, conceded last week that he may be unable to deliver on his campaign pledge.

"Look, these shabu [meth] and drugs, etc, cannot be solved by one man, for a president for one term. It has bogged nations [down]," he said on Friday.

But in another speech last week, at national police headquarters, Mr Duterte also signalled there would be no change in tactics.

He again vowed to pardon police if they were found guilty of murder for killing while fighting his drug war.