It was not much of a denial.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International released a comprehensive new report on President Rodrigo Duterte’s self-proclaimed “war on drugs,” casting the campaign as a state-led “war on the poor” that constitutes “possible crimes against humanity.” Based on interviews with more than 100 Filipinos and close examination of 33 cases, the report found that police have, with backing from the government, targeted the disenfranchised, recruited paid assassins, planted evidence and fabricated reports.

On Wednesday, a top Duterte ally, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, responded to the accusation of possible crimes against humanity not by denying police behavior but by questioning the humanity of the estimated 7,000 people shot dead since Duterte took power. “How can that be when your war is only against drug lords, drug addicts, drug pushers? You consider them humanity? No. I believe not,” he said. (For what it's worth, he’s said it before.)

The comment, which echoes Duterte’s efforts to dehumanize suspected drug users, should put to rest recent speculation that the government planned to abandon its much-criticized campaign. Earlier this week, Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said his force would shift from targeting drug dealers to tackling rampant corruption among police.

But Duterte, who has admitted the police force is “corrupt to the core,” has shown no indication that it will stop the police-led campaign of violence. In fact, the president, who promised to eradicate drug use in his first six months in office, said this week he will extend the campaign through the end of his term, in 2022. On Wednesday, he ordered the military to get involved.

At least two people were killed in the Philippines on Jan. 31, showing President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war is still very much alive (Reuters)

The fact that the government admits, publicly, that the police force tasked with waging the “drug war” is rampantly corrupt in some ways lends credence to Amnesty's 68-page report.

Investigating recent cases, the rights group found evidence to suggest that police, working from unverified lists of suspects, “stormed into homes and shot dead unarmed people, including those prepared to surrender.” They then “fabricated incident reports,” often claiming suspects fired on police when, according to witness testimony, they did not.

“The vast majority of these killings appear to have been extrajudicial executions — that is, unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by government order or with its complicity or acquiescence,” the report said.

Police officers told Amnesty investigators that they were paid by headquarters to kill. They also said they struck deals with local funeral homes eager for business from grieving families, taking a cut of the money for each body they delivered. “Sometimes if I’m the investigator, I’ll bring the body to the biggest and most expensive [funeral home], because they give the biggest cuts,” one officer reportedly said.

The Washington Post has not independently verified the Amnesty Report. Their findings, however, are strikingly consistent with what local and foreign media, including The Post, have been reporting over the past six months.

In September, for instance, The Post investigated the case of Francisco Santiago, a man who survived a late-night police raid by playing dead. The police said it was a buy-bust operation gone wrong and that Santiago had drawn first, shooting wildly at police. But video surveillance, witness testimony and the police report itself cast serious doubt on their story.

The Post also found evidence to suggest that deaths passed off by Duterte’s government as “vigilante justice” have links to police. When police chased men seen fleeing the scene of a murder on the island of Mindoro, for instance, they found the suspects were not vigilantes, but decorated members of the police force.

There are also numerous independent accounts of state-endorsed “death squads” operating in the southern city of Davao during Duterte’s long tenure as mayor, most notably a landmark 2009 report by Human Rights Watch. That report, and a subsequent report on copycat “death squads” in nearby Tagum, point to a pattern of violence similar to what Amnesty outlined this week.

Perhaps that’s why Aguirre chose to deny the humanity of the dead, rather than the cause of their deaths. At this point, Duterte and his allies have no reason to doubt that police are killing with impunity — just that the public will care.

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