Human rights groups shining a spotlight on mounting deaths in the Philippines' drug war now have the added chore of denying the government's claims they're involved. Following one of the bloodiest weeks in President Rodrigo Duterte's crackdown on drugs—13 people were killed in a single night, per the Wall Street Journal—presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Monday said "some human rights groups have become unwitting tools of drug lords to hinder the strides made by the Administration," per CNN. The comment echoed Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano previously accusing rights groups of "pushing an advocacy ... for politics, for business." Philippine officials later announced almost 124,000 people have been arrested for drug-related offenses and nearly 4,100 people have been killed in shootouts with police since June 2016.
Human rights groups, which believe the government tally omits thousands of deaths, say accusations against them show a disregard for international outrage surrounding Duterte's regime, under investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said Roque's comment was "shockingly dangerous and shameful" and "aimed at undermining the integrity of [those] ... pushing back against the Duterte government's systematic attack on rule of law." Local rights group Karapatan added the president's office continues to "invent the most ludicrous of stories" and create the "wildest accusations." Duterte denies wrongdoing, however, and a national police spokesman tells Reuters that authorities are investigating Roque's claims. "We have no [proof] right now," the officer says.