“BRACE for more bloodshed,” campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on Wednesday following a speech from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signalling a resumption of his deadly drug war.
Speaking to soldiers of the Special Operations Command, Duterte said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) may not have enough capability to implement the anti-drug campaign on its own and he has no choice but to return the operation to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“As of now, just to parry, I designated PDEA as the sole agency. Whether I like it or not, I have to return that power to the police because surely, it will increase the activity,” he said, as quoted by Rappler.
HRW said Duterte’s desire to resume the deadly crackdown underscores the need for a United Nations-led international investigation into the killings.
“Until that happens, the number of victims denied justice and accountability will likely only continue to grow,” HRW Deputy Director of Asia, Phelim Kine said in a statement.
More than 3,900 Filipinos have been killed in what the police called self-defence after armed drugs suspects resisted arrest in the 16-month-long campaign. Critics say executions are taking place with zero accountability, allegations the police reject. Local media outlets estimate more than 12,000 people have been killed in total due to vigilante groups taking the law into their own hands, on top of extrajudicial killings by the PNP.
Duterte placed the PDEA in charge of the crackdown in October after the police came under fire following the deaths of a number of teenagers during anti-drug raids. After mounting national and international criticism, Duterte conceded, stating at the time that the suspension of the police will be “better for the bleeding hearts and media.”
The rights group speculated that Duterte’s move to reinstate the police may be due to the failure of fellow leaders to hold him accountable for the killings while at the Asean Summit earlier this month.
“Duterte may also have been emboldened by unwillingness of either US President Donald Trump or fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders to publicly challenge the drug war slaughter,” Kine said.
The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing arguments in a petition to declare Duterte’s deadly war on drugs as unconstitutional.
During the court proceedings, lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) petitioned that the raids where police enter the homes of suspected drug users without a warrant and then proceed to “neutralise” the individual is in violation of the Filipino constitution.