Thirty-two suspected drug dealers were killed in shootouts across one province in the Philippines on Tuesday, police said, in a bloody 24 hours for the country’s war on drugs.
Police conducted 66 “buy-bust” operations, in which undercover police attempt to buy illegal drugs from suspected dealers, in the province of Bulacan, just north of the capital, Manila, Romeo Caramat Jr., Bulacan Provincial Director Senior Superintendent, said.
Twenty of the “buy bust” operations and 14 searches “resulted in armed encounter,” Caramat added.
Since coming to power in June 2016, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed an aggressive crackdown on drugs that has left at least 3,400 alleged dealers and users dead.
The number of dead suspects Tuesday is the highest the province has seen in a single night, Caramat said. He referred to the night of police action as a “one-time, big-time” operation, indicating that it was targeting “notorious drug pushers.”
In addition to the 32 killed, 107 persons were arrested, he added.
“Some quarters of the society are questioning why that many ended up dead, but all we can say is that we don’t have any control of the situation,” Caramat added.
“These subjects in this one time big-time operations, they are what we call the notorious drug pushers. They are called notorious. They won’t let themselves be arrested alive.”
Prior to Tuesday’s police operation, Bulacan provincial police disclosures show at least 14 drug suspects died in separate police operations over the course of the month.
In July, at least 18 suspects were recorded dead in drug-related operations in the province. Last week, Duterte said that his administration “can’t control” the country’s drug problem.
“(Others can’t do it. How can we? Those drugs), we can’t control it,” Duterte said in a mixture of Tagalog and English, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines.
He suggested that his government didn’t have the resources, and the problem was exacerbated by the country’s huge coastline — the Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands.
When campaigning for the presidency, he campaigned largely on tough responses to the Philippines’ drug problem, vowing to execute 100,000 criminals and dump their bodies into Manila Bay.
He pledged to resign after six months if he had not fixed the drug problem, but later backed away from that promise.
According to Philippines government data, more than 3,400 suspects have been killed in police operations since July.
Local and international human rights groups claim more than 9,000 people — including vigilante killings and those killed in police operations — have died as a result of the drug war.
In May, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunch ally of Duterte told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva there had been no sudden wave of killings as a result of the nation’s controversial war on drugs, and that reports to the contrary were based on “alternative facts.”