Over 220 drug-related killings under Marcos but only 3 prosecutions since 2016, reports say

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — A church group told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that drug-related killings continue in the Philippines as it reported over 220 incidents under the new administration.

"Drug-related killings continue with impunity under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. with 223 victims since July 2022," said Mervin Toquero of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) at the 52nd regular session of the UNHRC on Thursday.

"There is also very minimal accountability for perpetrators since the time of [former] President Rodrigo Duterte," added Toquero, who is a program secretary of the NCCP. The NCCP is part of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch which participated in the session in Geneva, Switzerland.

Marcos, who took office in July last year, is continuing his predecessor's anti-drug campaign but noted its shift to reduction and rehabilitation.

According to government data, over 6,000 drug suspects have been killed in police operations since June 2016. But human rights groups said the death toll could be much higher.

On March 2, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the UNHRC that the country will not tolerate "unjustified external interference" in its investigation into alleged crimes committed in Duterte's bloody drug war.

READ: Remulla to UN Human Rights Council: PH will not tolerate 'external interference'

In a separate report released Thursday, the US State Department noted that impunity was a "significant problem" in security forces, particularly in the Philippine National Police (PNP).

"Local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described widespread impunity for killings," the US said in its 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices.

"There were no prosecutions or convictions for extrajudicial killings in the year to October and just three since the start of the drug war in 2016," the report read.

Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, who also served as PNP chief during Duterte's term, said the US State Department must give concrete evidence in its report.

"Magbigay sila ng saktong datos hindi 'yung puro lang yawyaw, puro lang salita," Dela Rosa said.

"Sabihin nila kung ano 'yung basehan nila. Ano bang ibig nilang sabihin, mas magaling 'yung justice system nila kaysa sa atin? Ganun ba ibig nilang sabihin?" he added.

[Translation: They should give exact data and not just all talk. They should state what's their basis. What do they mean, that their justice system is better than ours?]

Citing government figures, the US State Department said Philippine law enforcement authorities conducted approximately 15,000 anti-drug operations from January to May last year.

"The PNP reported that its Internal Affairs Service investigated 74 killings during antidrug operations from January to July, involving 321 police personnel who were administratively charged," it added. "The PNP reported that a further 46 suspects were killed during anti-drug operations from July 1 to November 7."

In a UNHRC side event also on Thursday, church worker Toquero raised that there is a difficulty for proper documentation of growing human rights violations in the country "because of what happened to the human rights defenders during the time of Duterte — the threats, harassments, killings."

The US also noted in its report that witnesses to abuses in the country were often unable to obtain protection, with the number of witnesses overburdening the Commission on Human Rights' small witness protection program.

The International Criminal Court has resumed its probe into the drug war but the government is appealing the decision, arguing that the court has no jurisdiction in the country after the Philippines withdrew its membership effective in March 2019.

RELATED: SolGen: ICC chamber 'legal errors' basis for PH appeal on drug war probe

CNN Philippines senior correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.