The United States announced charges on Thursday against seven suspects in connection with a drug-trafficking ring that authorities said is an operation by allies of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to carry out his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs.
The Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern about the activity, citing a report this week by Philippine congressman and former mayor Edcel Lagman that authorities are linked to killing for “vicious sexual gratification.”
“The trafficking of minors for sexual purposes is an atrocious crime and one that accounts for more than a third of killings in the Philippines as part of President Duterte’s brutal war on drugs,” said the CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, Meenakshi Ganguly.
The group urged authorities to make arrests and carry out its “task force” designed to find and arrest the head of the trafficking ring, Zulencio Quisumbing, a former business partner of President Duterte. It said the task force has failed to make arrests.
In Washington, officials told reporters the seven suspects were caught up in anti-drugs operations that led to the rescue of 1,639 people from an apartment that police said was a drug trafficking hideout. At least 800 of them were drug traffickers.
Officials said they expect to announce more charges soon and seize more assets.
The drug dealers worked with two regional governments and two casino companies to transport drugs and firearms to and from various places, said Regional Commissioner William Rivas of the Philippine National Police.
Human rights groups say some of the victims were crushed in “death trains” set up by President Duterte and police as he won a July 2016 election pledging a ferocious fight on illegal drugs.
The United States has imposed travel warnings against visiting the Philippines and a port across the Pacific has evacuated thousands of passengers while the U.S. ambassador urged officials in Manila to review their ties with the administration of President Donald Trump’s self-described “man-child.”