MANILA -- Police said Thursday, March 22, that they killed 13 drug suspects and arrested more than 100 suspected dealers and criminals in one day of raids in a province with a record of bloody crackdowns.
The suspects were killed in gunbattles with police in a city and eight towns in Bulacan province, said police Senior Superintendent Romeo Caramat Jr.
More than 70 raids were launched in Bulacan on March 21, leading to the arrests of 109 people, including 92 suspected drug dealers and users, he said.
The violence raises the death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug crackdown to 4,239 since it was launched in July 2016, with more than 131,500 others arrested, the national police said. The United States, EU and other governments have expressed alarm and called on the Philippines to curb the bloodshed.
Human rights groups have cited much higher death tolls and called for an independent investigation, including by the United Nations.
Duterte has lashed out at critics and declared last week that the Philippines was backing out of the International Criminal Court, where he's facing a possible complaint for the thousands of killings.
In the raids, police seized more than 250 small packets of methamphetamine (shabu), marijuana and 19 firearms, police said. A similar crackdown in the province in August left 32 suspected drug offenders dead in the highest single-day toll in the nearly two-year campaign.
Last month, Bulacan police killed 10 drug suspects in a 24-hour sweep.
"These operations are part of our stepped-up campaign against drugs and all other forms of criminality in the province," Caramat said. "Unfortunately, 13 of the suspects were killed when our officers fired in self-defense."
Caramat said in one incident in San Jose del Monte city, three motorcycle-riding drug dealers were killed when they sensed that a drug buyer was an officer. Backup officers returned fire and killed the three but a fourth suspect escaped, Caramat said, adding that three pistols were confiscated.
Duterte has denied ordering police to carry out extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly threatened suspected drug lords and dealers with death in public speeches. He cites police casualties -- at least 91 dead and 227 wounded -- as proof of the danger law enforcers face.
Human rights groups, however, said their investigations have showed that officers have killed arrested suspects and then set up crime scenes to make it appear the unarmed suspects opened fire first.
Despite Duterte's move to disengage the Philippines from the ICC, which takes effect a year after he withdraws from the ICC treaty, the high tribunal in The Hague said Tuesday that the move won't derail an ongoing preliminary examination into possible crimes committed under the anti-drug crackdown.
Asked how the President will respond if the ICC seeks his comment on alleged extrajudicial killings, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. told a news conference in Manila he did not think "the ICC can look forward to cooperation from the Philippines as a state-party or a soon-to-be former state-party to the International Criminal Court."
"I do not know how the ICC can proceed without cooperation from the Philippine state," Roque said. (AP)