Duterte orders cops to stand down on drug war as focus moves to ‘big fish’

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President Duterte and PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa

President Duterte’s has ordered the police to withdraw from his drug war saying it will now target “big fish”.

The change in focus was announced today (Thursday, October 12) as the president ordered police to halt anti-drug activities and leave all operations to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

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All 18 regional anti-drugs units have today been disbanded and their resources will be channeled into fighting other crimes.

The change in policy comes at a tricky time for the president, after an opinion poll released this week revealed a big drop in public satisfaction in his policies.

It also follows the high-profile August killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos by police, which triggered rare public outrage and numerous protests against the drug war.

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“We now target higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters. He said the street level distribution networks of the “drug lords” had been degraded due to successful police operations in the 15-month old campaign.

It is not the first time the president has placed the anti-drug crusade back in the hands of the PDEA. He did so in January following the kidnap and murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo inside police headquarters.

However, after a few weeks the decision was reversed, with the claim that due to the PDEA’s relative lack of funds and resources, drugs had returned to the streets.

PDEA spokesman Derreck Carreon said the agency had about 2,000 personnel and funds for only 200 new agents next year.

Its proposed budget allocation for 2018 is 2.6 billion pesos compared to 131.2 billion for the police, which has 175,000 officers.

Nonetheless, PDEA was up to the task. “We are ready, we can do it,” Mr Carreon said.

“We will target the source, the so-called big fish. Removing these high-value targets will also eliminate the street level distribution and disrupt the entire network.”

However, he added that he could not guarantee there would be less bloodshed.

“We follow the procedures, we don’t want an encounter but we also have to protect ourselves if drug suspects resist and fight back.”

Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa has already announced a new target for his officers. “Those riding-in-tandem, brace yourselves. We will come at you. Go ahead and keep on shooting. I will ask my policemen to focus on you.”

He also said that police were often blamed for the actions of such criminals. “They do bad and the police get blamed.”

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