Businesses wary of drug deaths

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The government's war on drugs promises law and order for investors, but the rise in the number of extrajudicial killings could spook them out as well, business leaders said.

Many companies are discouraged from investing in the Philippines when they cannot ensure the safety of their employees or the continuity of their operations, Philippines-United States Business Council Chair Jose Cuisia, Jr. told CNN Philippines on Thursday.

Peter Perfecto, executive director of the Makati Business Club, agreed. "Businesses have recognized that security is a concern. So whenever the government does something to address peace and order situations and really tries to implement the law, then that's good."

Read: Still no leads in 'summary killings' probe, PNP says

They both backed President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-crime push, especially his focus on what Cuisia called the country's "drug menace."

Duterte was swept to power on a campaign promise to eradicate crime in three to six months. While the former Davao City mayor has openly admitted economic management is not his strength, he has also assured investors he would create a safe and stable environment for them to do business.

However, his hardline stance against crime has also coincided with an alarming rise in the number of deaths, especially of alleged drug lords, pushers and users.

Government data shows 550 people have died from police operations from June 30 — when Duterte took power — to August 12. A CNN Philippines tally estimates another 241 people were killed by unknown suspects between June 30 and August 7.

This is when businesses start to worry, Perfecto said.

"When there are other operators doing the killings, businesses want to know how authorities will respond to that because that is also part of the peace and order problem," he pointed out.

As for deaths in police operations, Perfecto welcomed the government's pronouncements they would not go unnoticed.

"I understand already from government that every situation where the police is involved will be subject to the usual processes of investigation and that's a good sign," he said.

He also noted Duterte himself, during his first State of the Nation Address, warned police not to abuse their authority. He said, "The tone from the top has been clarified."

Peace and order are good for business, but the rule of law is just as important too, the business leaders said.

Cuisia, who has just ended his term as the Philippine ambassador to the United States, said foreign investors want to see due process in the country they operate in.

"That's part of their system. They're used to that," he said. "The rule of law is applied even with regard to criminals in the United States. They're given a fair trial."

Cuisia argued that the Duterte administration should follow due process — even if the wheels of justice in the country move slowly.

"I understand the President's frustrations, but even those who are obviously drug lords or drug pushers deserve a fair trial," he said.

A lack of rule of law, the businessman warned, sows a seed of uncertainty among the business community.

He said, "The question always is — you might be the next one, so how do you know if someone tries to frame you or tries to claim that you are a drug pusher or a drug lord, without any evidence?"