More than 1,700 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed since the government intensified its anti-illegal drugs drive

Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines have called for a “deeper analysis” of the spate of killings in the country that have been linked to the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum warned that the killings will only “exacerbate” the problem of illegal drugs.

The religious leaders also noted that most of those killed are “small-time and poor people,” ucanews.com reported.

Meanwhile, five police officers and several town mayors and officials recently named by President Rodrigo Duterte as either drug users or protectors of drug syndicates “seem to be getting a special privilege; they remain very much alive,” they said.

The Philippine National Police estimates that more than 1,700 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed since the government intensified its anti-illegal drugs drive from July 1.

“While we believe and support President Duterte’s war on drugs, there is a need for deeper analysis as to why the drug problem is thriving and who benefits from this,” the bishops said in an August 22 statement.

Alarmed by the high number of deaths, the Church leaders said there is a need for the government “to examine the correctness of its approach in eliminating this menace.”

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila urged legislators involved in a Senate investigation into the killings to “stand firm because the people are looking for answers.”

He also called on Duterte to stop using “dirty tricks to bring down someone’s character and credibility, especially those who are pushing the inquiry.”

Bishop Pabillo said the president should allow a proper investigation “to extract the truth and for the people to know.”

“To kill without due process is immoral,” he said, adding that Duterte “should not use his position to become a bully or to hurt other people.”

On August 22, Sen Leila de Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, stressed the need to determine which abuses were committed by law enforcement officers and those by vigilante groups.

“I strongly believe extrajudicial or extralegal killings, whether perpetrated by the state or by non-state actors, must stop. Blatant disregard for human life has to stop,” she said.

Sen Panfilo Lacson, a former chief of the national police, warned, however, that the congressional inquiry might affect the government’s drive against illegal drugs.

“Frankly I have never seen anything on a scale of the current anti-illegal drugs campaign under this administration,” he said.

National police chief Director-General Ronald dela Rosa told the senators that the police have nothing to hide and are not condoning extrajudicial killings.

“If any cop is found violating the law on self-defence he will be investigated, prosecuted and accordingly punished,” he said.

Dela Rosa told the Senate investigation that from July 1 to August 21, drug-related deaths in police operations totaled 718. He said more than a thousand deaths are still “under investigation.”

Some 10,153 drug users and dealers already have been arrested in at least 6,000 anti-narcotics operations while more than 600,000 drug users and dealers surrendered to the police.