Death squads and justice: Behind the Philippines president's brutal battle on drugs

The man claimed to be the commander of a so-called death squad. Credit: ITV News
  • Warning: Video report contains images of murder scene that some viewers may find upsetting

Since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power on June the 30th this year there have been on average 13 killings a day in the Philippines.

Drug users, pushers and their ring leaders targeted by vigilantes, the police, or found dead in the street bound in tape with a sign around their neck declaring their crime.

It was on his pledge to eradicate drugs and crime that Rodrigo Duterte won his presidency.

In a series of controversial speeches during his election campaign he appeared to encourage extrajudicial killings.

He told cheering followers at the time: “If they are there in your neighbourhood, feel free to call us, the police or do it yourself if you have the gun.

"You have my support. If he fights and fights to the death, you can kill him. I will give you a medal.’'

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has earned a reputation for being tough on crime. Credit: Reuters

Since taking office, Duterte has continued his apparent support of extrajudicial killings.

In his latest outburst the President threatened to quit the United Nations after facing condemnation for his actions.

The man claimed to be the commander of a so-called death squad. Credit: ITV News

In the capital Manila, we met with a man who claims to be the commander of a 50-man death squad, carrying out the orders of the President.

He told us he had killed between 13 and 20 men so far. They included drug pushers, drug lords and three corrupt police officers.

“My family supports me because I am doing the right thing, it’s ok for them that I kill a bad person because it will benefit my children - they won’t follow the bad example," he said.

He claimed to coordinate the police and at times work with them:

“The police also know what we are doing, if they know we have operations I given them details if I have to kill someone and let them know where to find the body.”

He told us he has a 'kill list' and said they should have reached everyone on it by October.

Debi Edward speaks to the man who claimed to have a kill list. Credit: ITV News

We were told that drug users are give two warnings and if they don’t listen then they will be shot.

In the slums of Manila we joined the police on an operation called ‘knock and plead’ which it seems is the first of those warnings.

They target the homes of known drug users and make them sign an oath to quit.

Police arrive at the home of a suspect in a Manila slum. Credit: ITV News

Chief of Police for the area Senior Superintendent Orlando Yebra Junior told me:

“We do it the soft and the hard way, if they don’t want the soft way then we go the hard way and that’s maybe what you see on the news.

"That some of them are being killed, and those killings are justified, because if they fight back the police can now justify the killing.”

At the police station we were taken into the holding cells which are packed with drug users counting themselves lucky to be alive.

In the women’s cell we met 20-year-old Josephine Berroya who is four and a half months pregnant. She was caught in possession of crystal meth.

“I know someone who is dead already for taking drugs or pushing drugs, but for me that’s not good for out country.

"Because however bad these people are, we must respect life, life is not that simple, life is sacred," she said. "There’s no human rights in the Philippines."

Pregnant Josephine Berroya was caught in possession of crystal meth. Credit: ITV News

President Duterte has pledged to wipe out drugs and crime within his first three to six months in office.

The chief of police we spoke to said they are on track to have things cleaned up by Christmas.

Josephine Berroya’s baby will be born into a country where society’s deep-rooted problems are being solved with bullets.