MANILA (Reuters) - Around half of Filipinos believe many people killed in the country’s war on drugs were neither drug dealers nor violently resisted arrest as police maintain, according to an opinion poll released on Wednesday.
The survey of 1,200 Filipinos by Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted in late June also showed that 50 percent of respondents felt many victims were falsely identified by their enemies as drug users and pushers, and were then killed by police or shadowy vigilantes.
Thousands of mostly urban poor Filipinos have been killed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s 15-month-old war on drugs, either during police operations or by mysterious gunmen.
The crackdown has come under unprecedented scrutiny in recent weeks, due largely to the high-profile Aug. 16 killing of a 17-year-old student, among the 90 people killed in less than a week of intensified police raids.
The latest SWS poll predates those events. Forty-nine percent of respondents believed many of those killed by police were not drug dealers, and 54 percent felt many victims had not resisted arrest.
The survey suggests doubts among Filipinos about the official stance of the Philippine National Police, which states those killed in anti-drugs operations were dealers, and had refused to go quietly. Police say that has been the case in more than 3,800 incidents in which deaths occurred.
The poll also indicates some scepticism about the methods and effectiveness of intelligence-gathering and community campaigns to identify drug users in need of rehabilitation, some of whom, activists say, have been killed after their names appeared on “watch lists”.
Duterte’s crackdown has caused international alarm, though domestic polls have shown Filipinos are largely supportive and believe it has made the streets safer.
Duterte’s office frequently cites polls, including SWS, as a sign of his public support.
But presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella cast doubts about the accuracy of the latest survey, saying it contained “leading and pointed questions that may have unduly influenced the answers”.
“We expect pollsters to exercise prudence and objectivity to arrive at a closer approximation of public sentiment,” he said in a statement.
Activists accuse the PNP of executing drug suspects under the guise of sting operations, or of colluding with hit men to kill drug users, allegations the PNP vehemently denies.
Duterte’s political opponents say he has made bellicose statements that incite police to commit murder, which he rejects, arguing that his instruction to security forces has always been to kill only when their lives were in danger.
Only a fifth of those polled by SWS disagreed with the statement that police had killed many people who had posed no threat to them. A quarter were undecided.
Twenty-three percent of respondents believed those killed were drug pushers, as police report, and 27 percent were undecided.
Half of those surveyed believed false accusations of drug involvement were behind many killings by police, while 21 percent disagreed with that and 28 percent were undecided.
The survey showed higher percentages of those polled in Manila, which has borne the brunt of the drugs killings, felt many victims had neither sold drugs nor fought police, and were being falsely linked to the trade.
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the survey results were not surprising given the “critical mass of compelling evidence” gathered by his group and investigative journalists, which had clearly demonstrated there was “an unlawful killing campaign under the cynical veneer of ‘anti-drugs operations’.”
Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie