PHILIPPINES President Rodrigo Duterte has restored the role of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies in the deadly war against drugs, raising fears of resurgence in brutal killings that have victimised mostly poor Filipino drug users.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced on Tuesday that Duterte approved a memorandum order directing the PNP and other law enforcement agencies, including the National Bureau of Investigation, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Postal Corporation, to resume providing active support to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations.
Back in October, Duterte had designated the PDEA as the sole agency to implement the government’s campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in the country. The decision came as pollster Social Weather Stations revealed its third-quarter report that showed that the popularity of Duterte’s illegal drugs campaign had declined since December 2016.
“The president recognises the significant strides PDEA has made in the government’s anti-illegal campaign but it has been seriously hampered in performing its huge mandate by lack of resources, specifically agents and operatives who can penetrate drug-infected areas down to the municipal and barangay (village) levels,” Roque said.
He said Duterte’s memorandum order was “in response to a clamour from the public to restore to the PNP and other law enforcement agencies the responsibility of providing active support to the PDEA.”
“There has been a notable resurgence in illegal drug activities and crimes since the PNP and other law enforcement agencies were directed to leave to the PDEA the conduct of all anti-illegal campaigns and operations,” Roque said.
While the PNP and other law enforcement agencies will provide active support in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, PDEA shall continue to be the overall lead agency pursuant to Republic Act 9165 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
PDEA, as chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, shall coordinate all government efforts in this regard, Roque said.
The Dangerous Drugs Board shall remain as the policymaking and strategy-formulating body in the planning and formulation of policies and programmes on drug prevention and control.
Duterte had twice stripped the PNP from the lead role in the war against drugs. In January, he ordered the PNP to suspend its anti-drug operations after a Korean businessman was killed allegedly by narcotics police inside the PNP headquarters.
Duterte allowed the police to resume the anti-drug war more than a month later due to the reported worsening of the drug problem in the country until he again stripped the PNP and gave the lead role to the PDEA in October to “ensure accountability.”
Duterte admitted that the 2,000-strong PDEA does not have enough resources and manpower to eliminate the drug problem across the archipelagic nation of mostly Roman Catholics.
Aaron Aquino, an active police general who was appointed by Duterte in August to lead the PDEA, earlier conceded the agency will have difficulty curbing illegal drugs because it is undermanned. He said the PDEA still needed the assistance of the police and the military, especially in operations involving big drug lords.
Eliminating drugs from society was one of the campaign promises that catapulted Duterte, who served as mayor of Davao City in the southern Philippines for more than two decades, to power in June 2016.
The European Union, the United Nations and international human rights groups have criticised Duterte’s deadly campaign against illegal drugs. Duterte had slammed all his critics, saying they don’t have the right to interfere in a domestic problem.
According to the president, four million Filipinos are addicted to “shabu,” the Filipino slang for methamphetamine hydrochloride. The Philippines has a population of 101 million as of the 2015 survey.
In a strongly-worded statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) earlier called on the government to stop the “systematic murders and the reign of terror” in carrying out the war on drugs.
“We are appalled by the remorselessness by which even the young are executed… In the name of God, stop the killings! May the justice of God come upon those responsible for the killings!” the statement said.
Human Rights Watch deputy director in Asia Phelim Kine said Duterte’s deadly war on drugs resulted in the extrajudicial executions of an estimated 12,000 people, mostly from poor families. He criticised the decision to restore the 170,000-strong police anew in the war against illegal drugs.
“The reactivation of police anti-drug operations officially requires police to first ‘consult’ with the PDEA. But the government’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the thousands of drug war deaths make it highly unlikely that the PDEA will be able to restrain well-documented police abuses,” he said in a statement.
He said the president’s restoration of the police in the drugs war may have also been emboldened by the unwillingness of either US President Donald Trump or fellow Asean leaders to publicly challenge the drug war slaughter during the Asean 2017 Summit, which the Philippines hosted in November.
“Those failures highlight the need for United Nations action to investigate these killings, and to end the murderous police operations on urban poor communities,” Kine said.