President Duterte has extended his war on drugs until the end of his term — even while admitting that the nation’s police are “corrupt to the core”.
The death toll in the crackdown currently stands at more than 7,000, causing consternation among human rights groups, the church and foreign leaders.
The drug war has become particularly controversial after the revelation that South Korean businessman Ji Ick Joo was murdered by anti-drug officers within the police force’s national headquarters.
The rogue officers abducted him from his Angeles City home in a bogus drug raid and then — after strangling him to death within yards of police chief Ronald dela Rosa’s office — extorted millions of pesos from his widow in exchange for his “safe return”.
The crime is currently under scrutiny by a senate committee and investigations are continuing. Some Duterte allies have claimed that the murder was orchestrated by opponents of the president to discredit his anti-drugs crusade.
Now, despite widespread concerns about police behaviour, Mr Duterte has extended his drug war until “the last day” of his presidential term in 2022, having originally limited it to six months.
Duterte won the presidency last June on an unequivocal law-and-order platform, with a vow to eliminate the drug trade entirely by Christmas.
Soon after taking office, he extended the timeframe until March. Today he has said there would be no end while he was in office.
“I will extend it to the last day of my term,” he said. “March no longer applies.”
However, in the next breath, Mr Duterte said he believed that almost 40 percent of police officers in the country were involved in corruption.
“You policemen are the most corrupt. You are corrupt to the core. It’s in your system.”
He then vowed to “cleanse” the police force by reviewing all officers who had previously been involved in extortion. How or why such individuals could still be serving members of the force, he didn’t say.
Since the discovery of Mr Ji’s grisly end at Camp Crame, further revelations of police officers — usually attached to anti-drug departments — targeting foreign nationals for ransom have surfaced.
Police chiefs have insisted that those crimes are isolated incidents, and not part of a more widespread, general problem in the country.
However, on frequent occasions the president has insisted that he wouldn’t allow any police officer to go to jail for killing people in the name of his drug war. There are many who suspect that this apparent “free pass” has created a culture of perceived impunity among the ranks.
Police have reported killing more than 2,500 people in the course of the war against drugs. According to official figures, nearly 4,000 others have been killed in unexplained circumstances amid the crackdown.