TRECE MARTIRES, Philippines: A Philippine senator who initially led President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly drug war sparked outrage on Thursday (Jun 4) when he dismissed the killing of a toddler in a police anti-narcotics operation with an expletive and as collateral damage.
Ex-Philippine police chief Ronald Dela Rosa, who won a senate seat in May, made the comments as police burned 1.4 tonnes of seized narcotics while warning the nation still faced a flood of illegal drugs.
Authorities said a three-year-old girl was killed Sunday in a sting operation outside Manila. Her father, a drug suspect, as well as an undercover police officer were also shot dead.
"Of course you need to secure everything - no collateral damage. But if you infiltrate, it's not really possible," Dela Rosa told a news conference, dismissing allegations by the dead girl's family that the father had been unarmed.
Dela Rosa was police chief in the first 21 months of Duterte's presidency. The crackdown has officially killed over 5,300 alleged users and dealers - a number rights groups say could be three times higher.
Campaigners say the drug war killings could amount to crimes against humanity.
Although the Philippines has pulled out of the International Criminal Court, the war crimes body is pushing ahead with a preliminary examination of the crackdown.
Watchdog group Human Rights Watch condemned Dela Rosa's comments.
"It is unfortunate that... Dela Rosa, the first chief enforcer of Duterte's 'drug war' that has killed thousands, would display such uncaring, even contemptuous attitude to (the victim) and, by extension, the dozens of other children killed in the brutal campaign," it said.
The Commission on Human Rights, an independent government agency, said Friday it will investigate the shooting.
"Minors caught in the crossfire of the government's initiative in combatting illegal drugs in the country are simply not collateral damages. They are victims. Their hopes and dreams fall short once bullets enter their bodies, the commission added.
Duterte had suspended the drug war twice in the past two years as the government investigated alleged abuses by drug police, but later allowed them to continue without significant reforms.
Three low-level police officers were found guilty last year of the 2017 murder of a Manila teenager who they said they mistook for a drug suspect.
Police said they are now targeting higher-level traffickers.
"We have shifted to supply reduction because the flood of illegal drugs continues despite our intensified campaign ... on the street level," national police spokesman Bernard Banac told reporters as he watched the incineration of about a fifth of the drugs seized since the Duterte crackdown.
Cellophane-wrapped bricks of cocaine and methamphetamine were packed into a massive incinerator in Trece Martires City under armed guard in a carefully staged event before TV cameras.