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President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Image Credit: AP

Manila, Philippines: Philippine authorities have killed 46 drug suspects and arrested more than 22,000 others under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s campaign, the national police chief said Monday, and added the lower death toll underscores efforts to avoid lethal force.

Marcos Jr., who took office in June, has vowed to press on with his predecessor's crackdown on illegal drugs, which left thousands of mostly petty suspects dead, but said it would be done differently and focus more on rehabilitating drug dependents.

The widespread drug killings under Duterte were condemned by Western governments and human rights groups and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.

"You can see here the Philippine National Police now wanted to minimize as much as possible the killings of people engaged in drug activities," the country's police chief, Rodolfo Azurin Jr., told Manila-based foreign correspondents in an online news conference.

"I emphasize to every policeman, if it will not endanger their lives, we minimize the use of force in arresting suspects in criminal activities," Azurin said.

Thousands were killed in the first year of the brutal crackdown Duterte launched after taking office in 2016. He had denied condoning extrajudicial killings in his so-called war on drugs but had openly threatened to kill suspects until his final year in power.

Marcos Jr.'s landslide victory in the May 9 elections has been partly credited to his alliance with his popular predecessor's daughter and now vice president, Sara Duterte. But Marcos has tried to stay away from Duterte's widely condemned campaign.

In an interview with The Associated Press in New York in September, Marcos Jr. was asked if Duterte went too far with his lethal drug crackdown. Marcos redirected the criticism toward those who carried out the plan.

"His people went too far sometimes," Marcos told The AP. "We have seen many cases where policemen, other operatives, some were just shady characters that we didn't quite know where they came from and who they were working for. But now we've gone after them."

Still, Marcos Jr. has come under fire from human rights groups himself for continuing Duterte's crackdown that has led to new killings.

Azurin, who was appointed under Marcos Jr., refused to comment on the scale of drug deaths under Duterte but said some law enforcers then may have not properly assessed that some suspects were "not really harmful."

The 46 suspects killed under Marcos were slain in 32 of more than 18,000 operations, which led to about 22,000 arrests and the seizure of 9.7 billion pesos ($167 million) worth of illegal drugs, Azurin said.

Anti-drug policies were being reviewed and the focus was being shifted to rehabilitating drug dependents, providing them with livelihood skills to wean them from addiction and educating communities to harness residents in the fight against drugs, he said.

"It is more of doing a more responsive approach than what it used to be," Azurin said.

More than 6,200 suspects, mostly poor peddlers and dealers, were killed under Duterte based on police statistics. But human rights groups have cited higher death tolls and accused some police officers of fabricating evidence to make it appear the victims resisted violently.