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September 24, 2017

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Philippine government 'rethinking' drug war after killings of 3 teens

The Philippine government was "rethinking" its deadly campaign against illegal drugs following the killing of three teenagers in alleged police operations linked to the crackdown, a spokesman said Thursday.

The government expressed "profound dismay" over the "disturbing death" of 14-year-old Reynaldo De Guzman, whose body was found with about 30 stab wounds and his head covered in tape, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

De Guzman was the third teenager whose death has been blamed on police officers and linked to the drug war since last month.

Abella said that while the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte remains committed to the drug war, "the manner in which these things are carried out needs to really be re-examined."

More than 3,000 people have been killed in police operations against drug suspects since Duterte came into office on June 30, 2016. Police said those killed fought back when arrested.

"I believe they are all in the process of rethinking everything," Abella said, when asked if it was time for the police to review the way it was implementing the campaign against illegal drugs.

He also cited investigations by the Senate into the killings, adding, "It's not just one isolated event."

"[T]here is a rethinking, a major rethinking, going on," he added.

Aside from those killed in police operations, authorities also are investigating the deaths of nearly 11,000 other people to determine if their killings were related to illegal drugs and carried out by hired or vigilante killers.

The 14-year-old De Guzman had been missing since August 17 when he went out with 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz for snacks near their homes in the Manila suburban city of Caloocan.

Arnaiz's body was identified 10 days later in a morgue in Caloocan City. He was allegedly involved in a shootout with police officers who tried to arrest him after he was accused of robbing a taxi driver, a police report said.

De Guzman's body was found on Tuesday in a river in Gapan City in the province of Nueva Ecija, 77 kilometres north of Manila.

On August 16, 17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos was shot dead by police officers who claimed the high school student opened fire at them when they accosted him for alleged involvement in illegal drugs.

The National Bureau of Investigation has been directed to investigate the killings of the three teenagers.

President Duterte has vowed there will be no whitewash if police were found to be liable for the deaths, which have triggered public outrage over the violence under the administration.

Amnesty International said the three teenagers were among more than 50 children killed in a wave of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines since Duterte came into office and launched the drug war.

James Gomez, Amnesty's director for South-East Asia and the Pacific, said the deaths of young people "makes it even more urgent that an international level investigation takes place."

"The world can no longer afford to look away, stay silent, or offer muted expressions of condemnation," he said in a statement. "The brutality must stop. The victims and their families deserve justice."

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