Detainees sit next to a mural of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte while authorities search through belongings for illegal contraband inside the Manila City Jail in metro Manila, Philippines
MANILA (Reuters) - Nearly nine out of 10 Filipinos support Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, and almost three quarters believe extrajudicial killings are taking place in the bloody crackdown, an opinion poll showed on Monday.
Thousands of Filipinos have died in Duterte's signature campaign, causing international alarm, amid widespread allegations by activists that police are executing suspected drug users and dealers.
Police reject that and say every one of the more than 3,900 victims in their anti-narcotics operations were killed because they were armed and had violently resisted arrest.
Eighty-eight percent of the 1,200 Filipinos surveyed last month by pollster Pulse Asia said they supported the campaign, while 9 percent were undecided and 2 percent were against it. (http://bit.ly/2ykRjJS)
But 73 percent of respondents believed extrajudicial killings were taking place, up from 67 percent in the June poll.
A fifth felt there were no such killings, down from 29 percent in June.
Extrajudicial killings, often referred to locally as EJKs, is a contentious issue in the Philippines, where definitions of what it means vary from those typically used by international organisations and human rights groups.
Pulse Asia in its survey defined the term as "killings done by people in authority, such as the police or soldiers, that do no follow the rule of law".
National police chief Ronald dela Rosa said critics were so fixated by alleged summary executions that it had adversely impacted Filipinos' perception of the campaign.
"They keep mentioning EJK so it seeps into their minds," he said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the poll showed Filipinos appreciate the government's efforts to tackle crime.
He said Duterte was unambiguous about unlawful killings, having "made it absolutely clear that killing unarmed suspects who do not resist arrest is never allowed and will be punished."
Political analysts Ramon Casiple said the survey showed support for the drugs war by those who felt crime was falling, but reservations among those most affected.
"Communities with reported deaths, generally urban poor communities, are getting increasingly concerned of the killings," he said.
The survey comes amid unprecedented scrutiny on the war on drugs and several opinion surveys by another pollster that indicated dwindling trust of police accounts of operations, and whether victims were indeed all drug dealers as the police have maintained.
Duterte last week ordered police to withdraw from the anti-narcotics campaign and leave all operations to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) following scrutiny of police conduct.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty and Neil Fullick)