The epicentre of the Philippines' war on drugs is shifting away from the capital as the body count continues to spiral upward, according to a new Amnesty International report that calls for the United Nations to investigate the deaths of thousands of mostly poor Filipinos at the hands of police and vigilantes.
Three years after President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed the crackdown, at least 6600 people have been killed in police anti-drug operations, and more than 20,000 more killed by unknown perpetrators, according to the report. Only one case has led to a conviction — that of three police officers who murdered 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos.
The slaughter "has had the effect of creating a climate of total impunity in the country, in which police and others are free to kill without consequence," it said.
Bulacan province, north of Manila, has become the bloodiest killing field, the trend spurred on by the transfer to the region of police commanders who had overseen abuses in the Manila region, the report said. Among them is a provincial director who oversaw police operations in Caloocan City during Delos Santos' killing in 2017.
The findings place new pressure on Duterte, who has remained defiant ahead of a UN vote expected this week on an Iceland-sponsored resolution calling for an investigation into the bloodshed. In recent days, the president's office vowed to block any such move and said it would bar investigators from entering the Philippines.
Duterte has previously threatened to arrest any investigators from the International Criminal Court, which has expressed interest in probing thousands of drug war deaths. He withdrew the Philippines from the court in protest.