New president Rodrigo Duterte has followed through on his pledge to tackle illegal drugs and kill thousands of criminals. The 71-year-old was elected in May on his tough stance and has warned that police involved in the drugs trade will face the death penalty.

One explanation for the rise in the number of deaths is that police working within the drugs trade were killing off those who could accuse them of being complicit in criminal activity.

This has been denied by police chief, Ariano Enong, who asserted that the raids on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June were legitimate law enforcement operations.

The new regional police director Aaron Aquino warned more drug pushers will be killed in the war against drugs. "No one will be spared, including police officers and public officials, who are involved in the illegal trade," he said according to the Manila Times.

Since Duterte, nicknamed "the punisher", coming to office last month, over 40 drug suspects have been killed, an increase compared with 39 deaths in the four previous months.

The Catholic Church has spoken out against the sharp rise in killings, saying: "We are disturbed by an increasing number of reports that suspected drug-peddlers, pushers and others ... have been shot, supposedly because they resist arrest," Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of the conference, said in a statement.

"It is equally disturbing that vigilantism seems to be on the rise," he added according to Abc news.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was blunt in condemning the new approach of law enforcement. "When bounty-hunting takes the form of seeking out suspects of crime, killing them, then presenting proof of the death of the object of the hunt to the offer or of the reward, one is hardly any different from a mercenary, a gun-for-hire."

Duterte and the Catholic Church have locked horns previously when the president elect, who takes office at the end of June, called Pope Francis "a son of a whore".

The bishops also criticised reports of a city mayor offering large cash sums to policemen who kill drug suspects. "It is never morally permissible to receive reward money to kill another," the statement added.

Duterte has said he will offer P5m (£73,000) for every drug lord killed, and P3m (£44,000) for those captured alive, but gave the caveat: "I'm not saying that you kill them but the order is dead or alive."