Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald M. dela Rosa told a Senate hearing on Monday that 712 drug traffickers and users had been killed in police operations since July 1.

Police were also investigating 1,067 other drug-related killings, Mr. dela Rosa said, without giving details. The comments came a day after Mr. Duterte lashed out at the United Nations for criticizing the wave of deaths.

Senator Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of Mr. Duterte, started the two-day congressional inquiry into the killings on Monday, questioning top police and anti-narcotics officials to explain the "unprecedented" rise in killings.

As recently as Sunday, the number of suspected drug traffickers killed in Mr. Duterte's war on drugs had been put at about 900 by Philippine officials. But this number included people who died since Mr. Duterte won the May 9 presidential election.

"I am disturbed that we have killings left and right as breakfast every morning," said Ms. de Lima, whom Mr. Duterte, in turn, had shamed in a recent speech, alleging immorality and also links with the drugs trade on her part.

"My concern does not only revolve around the growing tally of killings reported by the police. What is particularly worrisome is that the campaign against drugs seems to be an excuse for some law enforcers and other elements like vigilantes to commit murder with impunity," Ms. de Lima said.

LACSON'S RESERVATIONS

Monday's hearing on the drugs war, which is scheduled to continue today, was led by the Senate committees on Justice and Human Rights, chaired by Ms. de Lima, and on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, chaired by Senator Panfilo M. Lacson.

Mr. Lacson, for his part, aired his reservations over the Senate inquiry's implications on the war on drugs.In his short opening statement, Mr. Lacson stressed that having come from the ranks of the police, he knows and understands their psyche."I know their frustrations over a flawed judicial system with unsympathetic, sometimes corrupt, prosecutors," said Mr. Lacson, a former PNP chief, adding that he was also familiar ("kabisado") with the foolishness of "scalawags" among the ranks of the police whom he relieved during his time.

Mr. Lacson said he knew well the enthusiasm and dedication among the policemen to perform their duties in order to accomplish their assigned mission.His statement went:

"I have openly and consistently manifested my misgivings to allow this inquiry to proceed, and for good reasons:

"The momentum that the police has gained over a short period through life-risking work of fighting illegal drugs must not be deterred by legislative inquiries like what we are conducting right now. Frankly, I have never seen anything of the scale of the current anti-illegal drugs campaign under this administration.

"As I had spent almost half of my life in law enforcement like them, I am not sure how many times I could have been maimed or killed by enemy fire during police operations that I participated in, or the number of times I could have landed in jail while performing my duties as a law enforcer.

"Nakaharap na rin po ako sa ganitong uri ng (I have also been faced with this kind of) legislative investigation and been seated on their side of the committee room. And I can tell you, the feeling was anything but pleasant. Never ako nakaramdam ng (I never felt) good vibes (then). I just hope our resource persons who are members of the police force are not talking to themselves now as I speak, cursing us legislators the way I did then. For police officers present in this inquiry, honestly I don't know how this whole exercise of drug-fighting will end. I have no idea what is the end-state of all your efforts. And I want to pick your brain on that later. I can only make a guess. Either we have a drug-free PH after 6 months or maybe a longer period; or God forbid, you go bust and worse, end up in jail."

FOCUS ON DE LIMA

Meanwhile, at the House of Representatives, the chamber's leaders shot down a planned inquiry into the drugs war and its resulting spate of extrajudicial killings -- but backed an investigation of the alleged proliferation of the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison on the watch of Ms. de Lima as justice secretary during the Aquino administration.

House Resolution No. 105 was introduced, for that purpose, by Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo C. FariAas, Deputy Speaker Raneo E. Abu, House Minority Floor Leader Danilo E. Suarez, and Representatives Romeo M. Acop and Karlo Alexei B. Nograles.

Mr. Abu said Congress is not the venue for investigating the extrajudicial killings.

House Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia agreed, saying the Congress is "not here to investigate the mysteries of these killings. We're not here to find out who should be held liable, because whether these were done by the police... or the vigilantes or any other groups, that's murder per se... and that is punishable by law, what other legislation can we come up with?"

Mr. Nograles, for his part, suggested that Ronnie Dayan -- a former driver and bodyguard of Ms. de Lima whom Mr. Duterte claimed to be her lover and bagman -- be sent "an invitation for him to air his side."

NARCO-GENERALS

In a related development, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is expected to file formal charges today against Chief Superintendents Edgardo G. Tinio and Joel D. Pagdilao in connection with their alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade. The two were among the five incumbent and retired police officers whom Mr. Duterte implicated in July as having links with the drugs trade.

In a press briefing at MalacaAang on Monday, Interior Secretary Ismael "Mike" D. SueAo said he is ready to sign an order for the filing of charges against the two.

Mr. SueAo said gathering evidence against Chief Superintendent Bernardo A. Diaz took "some time,...but we are sure we have the goods [on] him."

"[For] Mayor [and retired police general Vicente A.] Loot, we already lifted his supervision over the police and we have also cancelled his licenses or permit to own guns and bodyguards," Mr. SueAo said.

As for the other retiree in Mr. Duterte's list, Marcelo P. Garbo, Jr., Mr. SueAo said it would be up to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to file cases against him.

Mr. Sueno refused to disclose if the government had knowledge of Mr. Garbo's whereabouts. "Well, that is highly confidential, so we cannot reveal," he said.

Source: Business World Online