War on drugs

Philippines to use military in drug war

Mr Duterte holding a compilation of pictures of people said to be involved in drugs while speaking in Davao city yesterday.
Mr Duterte holding a compilation of pictures of people said to be involved in drugs while speaking in Davao city yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Duterte loses trust in police after series of scandals

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he would issue an executive order for military support in his fight against illicit drugs, which he said were a national security threat and he would "kill more" people if he had to.

Mr Duterte ruled out declaring martial law and said he did not need extra powers, but wanted to bring the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) into his drugs war because he could no longer trust law enforcement agencies.

All police operations in the drug crackdown were suspended on Monday due to deep-rooted corruption.

Mr Duterte has had to sideline the police after a series of scandals emerged recently in which police were caught committing murder, kidnapping, extortion and robbery - using the drug war as a cover.

In one of the highest-profile cases, anti-drug officers kidnapped a South Korean businessman and then murdered him inside the national police headquarters as part of an extortion racket, according to an official investigation.

Mr Duterte has placed an anti-drugs agency in charge of the campaign and has said he wants the armed forces to play a supportive role. "I still have to write... whether it is a proclamation or an executive order, but I've taken in the AFP and raised the issue of drugs as a national security threat, so that I can call on the armed forces to assist," he said in a speech in Davao.

"I have limited warm bodies but so many wars to fight," he said.

  • 7,600 Number of people who have been killed since Mr Duterte launched his war on drugs seven months ago.

    2,500 Number killed in shoot-outs during raids and sting operations.

The former city mayor said the police and the justice ministry-run National Bureau of Investigation could not be relied upon and promised "a cleansing, a purge".

Amnesty International had issued a report on Wednesday accusing police of systemic human rights abuses in the drug war, including shooting defenceless people dead, fabricating evidence, paying assassins to murder drug addicts and stealing from those they killed. It said the killings in the drug war may amount to crimes against humanity.

Mr Duterte did not say what the remit of the military would be in the drug war, or indicate how many troops would be involved, but said they were necessary.

Some 7,600 people have been killed since Mr Duterte launched his war on drugs seven months ago, and more than 2,500 were killed in what police say were shoot-outs during raids and sting operations.

The cause of the remaining deaths remains disputed, with police blaming turf wars and vigilantism, and activists alleging widespread summary executions and police collusion with hitmen.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said yesterday that involving the military was the wrong move because the armed forces had a track record of extrajudicial killings, particularly where communist rebels were concerned.

Mr Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, warned that using the military for policing forces anywhere "heightens the risk of unnecessary or excessive force and inappropriate military tactics". "There is also a deeply rooted culture of impunity for military abuses in the Philippines," with only one soldier convicted of an extrajudicial killing since 2001, Mr Kine said.

Mr Duterte said he cared little for drug dealers and addicts and had initially underestimated the scale of the problem.

"You bleed for those (expletive). How many? 3,000? I will kill more if only to get rid of drugs and this campaign," he said. "I thought that I would finish it in six months."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Philippines to use military in drug war'. Print Edition | Subscribe