President Duterte has relaunched his war on drugs, despite calls for extra manpower to be deployed against Abu Sayyaf and other terror groups.
Less than a month after the Philippine National Police (PNP) was fired from his campaign, the president said he now needed more manpower to redouble his crusade against drugs.
“So, I need more men. I have to call back the police again to do the job most of the time on drugs,” he told reporters.
Duterte was scathing in his criticism of a police force he declared “corrupt to the core” after it was discovered that rogue drugs squad officers had kidnapped and killed South Korean businessman Ji Ick Joo at the PNP headquarters at Camp Crame. (Latest update here.)
His decision to bring the police back into the campaign ends any hope that he was planning to tone down the bloody campaign, which has drawn criticism from world leaders, the church and human rights groups.
However, newly-installed Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto questioned the president’s priorities. He said: “There will be zero public outcry if there is a rise in the number of Abu Sayyaf killed.
“It is the kind of body count the people would welcome.
“These terrorists have been in the beheading business for 25 years now. It has been a generation. It should be stopped.”
He added that Abu Sayyaf was now the “most violent criminal syndicate” in the country. “In terms of damage to the national image, Abu Sayyaf has caused more than what a hundred drug syndicates have done.”
He also said that, even if the drug war were to be relaunched, it should it should focus on the shabu factories. “To dry up demand, you must stop the supply. It’s like a pipe with many holes. Instead of patching it one by one, why not just shut off the main?
“I will concede that the war against drugs should continue. But it should be on the manufacturing front. Instead of knocking on homes, the police should be battering down gates of shabu labs,” he added.
More than 7,700 people have been killed since Mr Duterte’s first day in office, some 2,555 in official operations in which police claim drug suspects resisted arrest. Critics believe that many of the other killings were carried out secretly by police, or hit-men in their pay.
Since the police suspension on January 30, the drug trade has reportedly come back out of the shadows, more than half a dozen drug users and dealers in some of Manila’s toughest areas told Reuters recently.
PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa yesterday warned that gains in the drug war would be lost with police on the sidelines and “the sooner we return, the better”.
The 1,800-strong Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) — which took over from the PNP — will continue to lead the anti-drugs campaign, with the support of the military and police.
The armed forces and PDEA have reportedly signed an agreement to share intelligence and jointly go after “high value targets” in the drugs trade.
The military is expected to provide firepower for the PDEA in hostile situations, but troops won’t be involved in street-level operations. “It’s meant to be PDEA-supervised, whether done by the military or the police. There should always be a PDEA who will be supervising everything,” Mr Duterte said.
He has now commanded dela Rosa to recruit “young men for task forces” who were “imbued with the fervour of patriotism” and not “tainted by corruption”. No further details about these proposed task forces were given. “I have to do it because I don’t have enough men,” Mr Duterte added.
Separately, the Senate announced on Tuesday it would hold an inquiry into allegations by a retired policeman that Mr Duterte had controlled a team of hit men during his 22 years as mayor of southern city of Davao. (Read more here and here.)