The drug war is on hold as the Philippine police force seeks to rid itself of corrupt “scalawags” – but the president has vowed to continue his deadly campaign through 2022
After rogue Philippine police officers killed a South Korean businessman, chief of police Ronald dela Rosa has said the country’s ‘war on drugs’ will be halted in order to overhaul the police force.
Yesterday, Dela Rosa said the campaign, which has seen more than 7,000 deaths in extrajudicial vigilante-style killings, would be temporarily halted in order to clean the police force of “scalawags”.
“To all the rogue cops, beware. We no longer have a war on drugs,” Dela Rosa told reporters.
“We will cleanse our ranks … then maybe after that, we can resume our war on drugs. The president told us to clean the organisation first.
“I don’t know how long it will take to cleanse the PNP [Philippine National Police],” he added. “But with each and every one of us cooperating, helping each other, maybe in a month, we can do it.”
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that an investigation conducted the Philippine police force itself would do little to root out corruption in the organisation and prevent further extrajudicial killings.
“Suspending police anti-drug operations could reduce the killings, but they won’t stop without a meaningful investigation into the 7,000 deaths already reported,” said Kine. “The Philippine police won’t seriously investigate themselves, so the UN should take the lead in conducting an investigation.”
The news comes one day after President Rodrigo Duterte said he was “embarrassed” by the October strangling of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo on the grounds of the national police headquarters in a botched kidnap for ransom operation. He estimated that 40% of the police force was corrupt and as “lousy as drug lords”.
During a joint news conference, Duterte and Dela Rosa announced that the anti-drugs unit within the police would be disbanded, but that Duterte would be continuing his drug war until the end of his presidential term in 2022.
Duterte has also been advocating for the return of the death penalty, which was abolished by the Philippines in 2006. A bill being debated in the Philippine House of Representatives this week which – if passed by both the lower house and the Senate – would see 21 crimes become punishable by death, including nine drug offences.
According to Professor Ramon Beleno III, chair of the political science and history department at Ateneo de Davao University, using the death penalty to execute those involved in the drug trade could add a perceived legitimacy to Duterte’s campaign.
“[T]his will in some way ‘legalise’ the execution of the drug related criminals or in short, ‘legalise the war on drugs’,” Beleno said. “The Duterte administration has been widely criticised for his extreme actions in pursuing his war on drugs. And this might be one of the stumbling blocks to the success of his campaign.”
“He can now claim that the criminals were killed judicially and with just cause,” Beleno added, “and that due process was exercised.”