Duterte changes tack in drug war amid mounting protests, declining popularity
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Duterte changes tack in drug war amid mounting protests, declining popularity

AMID mounting criticisms and declining net satisfaction ratings on his deadly drug war, President Rodrigo Duterte has changed course, replacing the police force with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the “sole agency” to combat the narcotics menace.

The announcement designating PDEA as the “only” agency to fight illegal drugs in the country came on October 11, the same day pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed its third-quarter report that showed Duterte’s nationwide net satisfaction rating on the illegal drugs campaign declining to +63.

The non-commissioned survey, conducted from Sept 23 to 27, involved 1,500 respondents across the country.


Duterte gestures while delivering a speech during his visit to Bangolo town, Marawi city, southern Philippines, on Oct 17, 2017. Source: Reuters


In the first two quarters of the year, the net satisfaction ratings of the Duterte administration on fighting illegal drugs was at a declining trend of +66 and +65, respectively, the SWS data showed.

Still, all those figures translate to a “very good” rating based on SWS classification. Based on SWS data, the highest net satisfaction rating achieved by the Duterte government in the fight against illegal drugs was achieved in December 2016 at +77, which is classified as “excellent.”

SEE ALSO: Philippines’ Duterte tells cops to kill his son if involved in illegal drugs

Duterte, who assumed power in June 2016 after promising during the campaign trail to eradicate illegal drugs in six months, has been deflecting mounting criticisms from church groups, local and international human rights organisations and the United Nations for the deadly drug war that killed at least 8,000 mostly poor drug users.

The victims were either killed during police operations for allegedly resisting arrest or by vigilante killers.

In September, members of church, militant and civil society groups mounted a large protest in Manila against the drug-related killings with another mass action slated early in November.


Protesters burn a cube effigy with a face of President Rodrigo Duterte during a National Day of Protest outside the presidential palace in metro Manila, Philippines, on Sept 21, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

In his memorandum with the subject “Implementation of Republic Act (RA) 9165 Otherwise Known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” Duterte cited “accountability” as a key factor in designating the PDEA now as the country’s “only drug buster.”

“In order to bring order to the operation/campaign against illegal drugs, thus pinpointing precise accountability, I hereby direct, the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), PNP (Philippine National Police), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Bureau of Customs, Philippine Postal Office and all other agencies or any and all ad hoc anti-drug task force, to leave to the PDEA, as sole agency, the conduct of all campaigns and operations against all those who, directly or indirectly, and in whatever manner or capacity, are involved in or connected with, illegal drugs,” the president said.

“All information/data received by the NBI, PNP, AFP, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Postal Office and all other agencies or any and all ad hoc anti-drug task forces shall forthwith be relayed, delivered or brought to the attention of the PDEA for its appropriate action,” he added.

The memorandum, likewise, urged the PNP to maintain police visibility at all times as a deterrent to illegal drug activities. National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa has abolished their anti-illegal drug units and assured the PDEA of help if they ask for assistance.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Students, Catholic church protest over teenager’s drug war death

Aaron Aquino, an active police general who was appointed by Duterte in August to lead the PDEA, conceded the agency will have difficulty curbing illegal drugs because it is undermanned. He said the PDEA has just over 1,000 agents compared to the 170,000-strong police force.

Aquino said the PDEA, which sought a bigger operational budget, still needs the assistance of the police and the military, especially in operations involving high-profile drug lords.

Amnesty International’s director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific James Gomez said Duterte’s new tack will have “little meaningful impact as long as the Duterte government’s fundamental policy of supporting extrajudicial executions of drug suspects remains in place.”

“The wave of unlawful killings, which may constitute crimes against humanity, will continue even if the shooters happen to be wearing different uniforms,” he warned. Gomez recalled that Duterte has pulled police off drug operations once before, in January, only to reinstate them a few weeks later.


Duterte supporters attend a rally at Plaza Miranda in metro Manila, Philippines, on Sept 21, 2017. Source: Reuters/Dondi Tawatao

“We are concerned that this too may be nothing but a short-term PR move in response to growing public outrage about the drug war’s many victims, which are overwhelmingly poor, and include children,” Gomez said on Duterte’s designation of PDEA as the sole drug-buster in Philippines.

He urged Philippines authorities “to instead immediately signal a clear shift in policy to an approach that respects and protects human rights, and end its murderous war on drugs once and for all.”

Gomez said:

“It is also crucial that there is accountability for the thousands of killings carried out already, many by police officers, and that those responsible are held to account.”

In a televised speech Thursday evening during the High-Level Forum on Asean @ 50 in Manila, Duterte denied there were extrajudicial drug-related killings and castigated the Western world for interfering in the Philippines’ drug problems.

“Please do not impose your will on us. Do not derogate our sovereignty by lecturing on us, the civilities of a country which we turn a democratic state,” Duterte said.

“It is not – maybe to your satisfaction – that you do not like what we are doing but you know there are things which we have to do because we have to do it.”


Policemen from Caloocan Police District patrol a dimly lit alley at a residential district in Caloocan City Metro Manila Philippines, on Sept 14, 2017. Source: Reuters/Erik De Castro

SEE ALSO: After awarding only $20, Philippines to restore human rights commission budget

Duterte said that if any Western country is interested to solve the drug problem the civilised way, his doors are open.

“I am inviting you to join the fray. And I would be glad to appoint you the lead role in the (anti-illegal drug) problem,” he said. Duterte noted he inherited the illegal drug problem that had persisted even during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who graced the high-level meeting.

Arroyo’s successor was Benigno Aquino III, whom Duterte blasted earlier for claiming the current administration “has done nothing” to solve the drug menace.