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Drug war cancelled as “rotten to the core” PNP vows to purge rogue cops

President Rodrigo Duterte with Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa.

The Philippines National Police (PNP) is to suspend the war on drugs in order to purge rogue cops.

As we reported yesterday (here), President Duterte said that although the force was “rotten to the core” he would nonetheless press on with the drugs war until the end of his term in 2022.

Today however, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa announced an end to the anti-narcotics crusade. Speaking during a flag-raising ceremony at the Camp Crame national headquarters — the site of the murder of Ji Ick Joo (see our reports here and here) — he said: “To all the rogue cops, beware! We no longer have a war on drugs. We now have a war on scalawags. We will cleanse our ranks.”

“We have to focus our efforts towards internal cleansing. And by the time na ma-cleanse natin ang PNP, the president will determine that, and he will instruct us to go back on the war on drugs. But right now, no more drug operations.”

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He also announced the creation of a new task force to identify and weed out rogue cops. “It will have no other mission but to run after scalawags in the PNP. Cops with links to syndicates should pay attention, you should put up a fight so you’d die. The counter-intelligence task force will kill you.”

He added that he hoped to resume anti-drugs campaign within a month.

President Duterte has been unwavering in his defence of police prosecuting the war on drugs, repeatedly saying he would protect those accused of wrongdoing. Critics say this perception of impunity has created a complete breakdown in order in the force.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has dismissed the suspension of the drug war as a public relations stunt, unless Duterte “seeks meaningful accountability” for the thousands of drug-related killings since he took office.

More than 7,000 people have since been killed over the past seven months, of these 2,250 were during official police operations. The others remain under investigation.

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Critics say many of the killings being investigated were unofficial police “hits”, but the PNP claims they are all down to vigilantism, drug turf wars and general violence.

HRW’s deputy Asia director Phelim Kline said “His [Duterte’s] wilful blind-eye to those deaths constitutes a disgraceful betrayal of the public trust”. She added that it was “a telling indicator of his personal contempt for rule of law and the right to life of his fellow citizens”.

Dela Rosa’s decision to suspend the drug crackdown came a day after he announced the dismantling of all anti-drugs units due to police abuses, including the planting of evidence and other corrupt practices.

The kidnap and murder of Mr Ji was a disaster for the image of the police, happening just yards away from Dela Rosa’s office. Further revelations of so-called “tokhang for ransom” have since come to light following senate inquiries.

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Yesterday, president Duterte urged one of the main suspects, Supt Raphael Dumlao, to surrender in 24 hours, or face death. The police officer had been detained at Camp Crame, yet had been able to walk free. The president also announced a five million peso reward for his recapture if he didn’t hand himself in. He said: “Dumlao, you son of a bitch, if you don’t  surrender I’m giving you exactly 24 hours. And then the reward goes into effect. Dead or alive.”

Senator Leila De Lima, the president’s fiercest critic, said he had a problem with “cognitive dissonance” and it was “baffling” that he could denounce police so strongly while vowing to push on with the campaign.

“I continue to worry about the state of the president’s mental health,” she said. “This latest incongruence between his factual assertion of a rotten police force on the one hand and his reliance on them to continue prosecuting his drug war as official government policy, has dire consequences.”