MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine police chief denied on Tuesday any policy to kill drug suspects, telling a Senate hearing into the bloodshed that President Rodrigo Duterte had never told him to “kill and kill”.
Duterte took office in June last year after winning an election on a vow to get tough on drugs and crime. He soon launched a “war on drugs” in which thousands of people have been killed.
Duterte and his campaign remain popular but opposition to the bloodshed, including from within the influential Catholic church, has begun to build.
The death of 17-year-old boy, Kian Loyd delos Santos, last month, after he was dragged off by plain-clothes anti-drug policemen into a dark alley, has stirred public outrage.
National police chief Ronald dela Rosa, called to testify at a Senate inquiry, dismissed any suggestion there was an official policy to summarily kill suspects.
“We will die for the innocent people. It’s painful to say there’s a policy of widespread killings,” Dela Rosa, appearing to fight back emotion, told the televised hearing.
“The president never told me to kill and kill.”
The stocky police general, nicknamed “Bato”, or the rock, was responding to questions about the killing of delos Santos.
Police say they acted in self defence after delos Santos opened fire on them.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, a staunch critic of Duterte, told the hearing the police “should never be used as a killing machine”.
“There’s a wide policy that allows the killings in the name of war on drugs,” Hontiveros said.
Dela Rosa said he would step down if she could prove her accusation.
According to police records, more than 3,800 people, most of them drug suspects, have died in police operations since July last year. Police say most were killed resisting arrest.
Thousands of other people have been killed by unknown assailants. Human Rights Watch said last month the drug-war death toll was at least 7,000.
Rights groups suspect police, or gunmen working with the encouragement of police, were behind most unexplained killings.
Police reject that saying the murders were the result of gang wars, drug dealers killing informers or vigilantes killing drug users.
Duterte himself has often encouraged tough action.
Last month, for example, after 32 people were killed in a night of police raids, he said: “Let’s kill another 32 every day.”
Senators also asked about the killing of 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz last month in the same neighbourhood where delos Santos was shot.
Arnaiz, who the police accused of robbery, died of five gunshot wounds. A police medical examiner told the inquiry the autopsy showed he was shot while lying face down.
“There is a policy that dictates the culture of killings in our nation. There is a system to the killings, there is a method to madness,” Hontiveros said.
Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Robert Birsel