Lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno from the Free Legal Assistance Group speaks during a news conference in Manila, Philippines, yesterday.

A group of Philippine lawyers yesterday filed an injunction with the Supreme Court to try to stop President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, calling it an illegal campaign that lets police kill and circumvent legal procedures.

The government’s directive for the fierce 15-month-old crackdown permits police to “negate” and “neutralise” targets, effectively granting them a licence to kill suspected users and dealers, without gathering evidence or building a case, the lawyers said.

A practice of compiling lists of “drug personalities” and encouraging citizens to anonymously provide names was tantamount to drawing up a hit list, the petition said. It called for judicial intervention in thousands of cases where Filipinos were killed by police.

“The present war on drugs being waged by the government is not going to stop illegal drugs, crime and corruption,” said Jose Manuel Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag).

“It will only result in the killing of more and more people, especially the poor.”

The petition comes as public scrutiny intensifies of Duterte’s signature campaign, which he insists will not stop, regardless of the bloodshed. He says he is prepared to go to jail to protect Filipinos from crimes fuelled by addiction.

Duterte rejects criticism that his notoriously bellicose public remarks have been interpreted by some police as veiled instructions to kill drug users with impunity.

Philippine National Police spokesperson Dionardo Carlos said police “welcome the filing of the petition before the Supreme Court”. He did not elaborate.

Though Filipinos are largely supportive of Duterte’s iron-fisted approach, recent opinion polls indicate public doubts that his drugs war is above board and as effective as the government says. Analysts say unease about the campaign has contributed to Duterte’s ratings decline.

Police data shows 3900 people have been killed in operations in which police say armed suspects violently resisted arrest.

Duterte’s opponents and activists dispute that and say executions and cover-ups are commonplace, which police deny.

The petition by Flag, which is comprised of about 200 pro bono human rights lawyers, was filed on behalf of three people whose relatives were killed by police.

Flag has also represented two men who testified before the Senate that they were part of an alleged “death squad” that killed drug dealers and criminals at Duterte’s behest when he was Davao City mayor, long before his presidency.

Duterte dismisses the allegation as nonsense.

The latest petition seeks to compel the police and the interior ministry to halt the campaign, and wants killings to be examined by the National Bureau of Investigation, which would take charge of evidence, including guns that police say were used by victims.

It said house-to-house visits by anti-drugs police followed unverified tip-offs from unknown informants, and were not based on evidence.

It argues police had no intention of persuading suspects to surrender and would kill anyone who refused to co-operate or denied involvement.

“The government’s war on drugs is short-cutting the justice system by dispensing justice from the barrels of guns,” the petition said. - Reuters