Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be making progress in the war on crime he promised when he took office a month ago—as long as murder isn't considered a crime. The Guardian reports that more than 700 people suspected of dealing or using drugs have been killed since Duterte, nicknamed "the Punisher," was elected after vowing to kill tens of thousands of criminals. Critics including Sen. Leila de Lima, a former justice minister, say police and vigilantes are using an anti-drugs campaign as an excuse to kill innocent people. "We cannot wage the war against drugs with blood. We will only be trading drug addiction with another more malevolent kind of addiction," she told lawmakers recently. "This is the compulsion for more killing." Rights groups believe the rate of killing has reached dozens a day.
A group of Filipino human rights advocates issued a statement last week condemning the killings and accusing police of "turning low-income neighborhoods in the country into free-fire zones." "The bloody encounters taking place daily have polarized the country between those who support the president's quick and dirty methods of dealing with drugs and crime, and those who regard them as illegal, immoral, and self-defeating," the statement said. Reuters reports that one recent victim was Michael Siaron, a 29-year-old pedicab driver shot dead in Manila by men on motorcycles. After photos of Siaron being cradled by his widow went viral, Duterte said the pictures were "melodramatic." The widow admitted that Siaron used drugs but said he was far too poor to have been a dealer—and that he voted for Duterte. (Read more Philippines stories.)