Philippine lawmakers concerned about big jump in drug-war budget

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine lawmakers urged the government on Thursday to explain a proposal to increase a police budget for anti-narcotics operations by 4,400 percent, amid concern about the scale of the bloodshed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

FILE PHOTO: Policemen stand behind a police line after a man was killed during a police anti-drug operation in Caloocan city, Metro Manila, Philippines August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The anti-drug crackdown, Duterte’s signature campaign, has caused international alarm and led to efforts by some domestic critics to see him tried before the International Criminal Court.

Duterte says his campaign is justified because drugs are destroying the Philippines and are a root cause of rampant crime.

The plan to raise the budget sharply comes amid some rare public outrage about the death in August of 17-year-old high school student Kian Loyd delos Dantos, who was killed by drugs squad police in what they said was self defense during an attempt to arrest him.

His family says he was not a drug user and had no weapon. Duterte has promised the family justice.

The interior ministry’s proposal is to grant police a 900 million peso ($17.58 million) budget for anti-drug operations next year, according to several lawmakers.

“This is over 4,000 percent increase from only 20 million pesos this year,” Congressman Carlos Zarate told reporters.

“How many more deaths are we expecting here?” How many more Kian delos Santoses will die?”

More than 3,500 people have been killed since June 30 last year in anti-drug sting operations and police say some 2,100 homicides during that time were drug-related.

Activists have accused the police of executing suspected dealers and users, but the authorities reject that and say those killed in operations had violently resisted arrest.

Duterte has shown no remorse about the deaths, but he has stressed that police should only kill suspects as a last resort, if their lives were in danger.

Senator Ralph Recto urged closer scrutiny of the proposed anti-drug budget, which is set to be discussed at a plenary session next week.

“Before such a campaign is reloaded with funds, questions as to how it will be implemented must first be asked,” Recto said in a statement.

Recto said the police were requesting a 20 billion pesos increase in their 2018 budget, from 111.8 billion pesos to 131.5 billion pesos, with drugs units getting the biggest raise.

“What is the increase for, what are the targets? That should be clarified,” he said, adding the additional budget should go to the internal affairs division to discipline rogue police.

($1 = 51.1920 Philippine pesos)

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel