The leader of the Philippine National Police said Monday that the agency’s anti-drug units would be shut down and the deadly crackdown on people who use and sell drugs would be suspended.
Instead, the crackdown will temporarily shift to inside the police force itself.
“We will cleanse our ranks … then maybe after that, we can resume our war on drugs,” police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa said, according to the BBC.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last summer, more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers have died in extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
Earlier this month, investigators revealed that a Korean businessman had been kidnapped by anti-drug officers and strangled to death at the national police headquarters, The Philippine Star newspaper reports. The officers “later extorted ransom money from his family under the pretense that he was alive,” according to The New York Times.
The businessman’s killing prompted protests in Manila. Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch wrote that it was an “ominous indicator of the breakdown of rule of law” under Duterte, and that “Philippine police have good reason to believe that they can literally get away with murder.”
Dela Rosa announced that a counter-intelligence force would be created to catch, and potentially kill, corrupt officers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“You policemen involved in syndicates, let’s see what happens now. Fight back so you’ll end up dead,” Dela Rosa said. “You will be killed by this counter-intelligence task force.”
“We have to focus our effort toward internal cleansing and by the time we have cleansed the national police, the president will determine that and he will instruct us to go back to our war on drugs,” the newspaper quoted Dela Rosa as saying.
Duterte campaigned on the promise of death to drug dealers, saying he would dump their bodies into Manila Bay and allegedly encouraging citizens to shoot drug dealers. “Forget the laws on human rights,” he told supporters in a speech before election day.
Once he was sworn in, promises hardened into policy. “Do your duty, and in the process, you kill 1,000 persons, I will protect you,” Duterte told police on July 1, the day after he was sworn in, Michael Sullivan reported for NPR.
In September, an admitted former assassin testified that Duterte had “personally ordering extrajudicial killings — and, in one case, pulling the trigger,” while he was mayor of Davao City, as The Two-Way has reported.
The United Nations has condemned Duterte’s “apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killing, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms.” The Obama administration largely steered clear of the issue, even after Duterte preemptively, and profanely, scolded then-President Obama for even considering bringing up the issue in an upcoming meeting.
That meeting was subsequently canceled.
As we have reported, Duterte said he hopes to get along with President Trump, and has appointed real estate magnate Jose E.B. Antonio as a special trade envoy to the U.S. It’s worth noting that Antonio is the man building Trump Tower Manila.