January 30, 2017 9:10 pm JST

Philippines halts deadly crusade on drugs

Duterte orders purge after police murder S. Korean businessman

CLIFF VENZON and MIKHAIL FLORES, Nikkei staff writers

MANILA -- The Philippine government has temporarily suspended its controversial war on drugs after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a "cleansing" of the police force because rogue officers have been implicated in the murder of a South Korean businessman.

"We have to focus our efforts," said Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa at the national police headquarters on Monday. He said Duterte "will instruct us to go back on the war on drugs" after the purge. "But right now, no more drug operations."

Duterte won last year's election after pledging to wipe out crime and drugs in a matter of months. The anti-narcotics campaign he launched in office has led to the killing of over 6,000 people, a third of whom died in police operations. The rest were killed by vigilantes who are believed to have police links.

The crackdown has elicited strong condemnation overseas, including from Western governments, human rights advocates, and the United Nations, but has been broadly popular at home.

However, the killing of the South Korean businessman has added another dent to the credibility of Philippine police. In October, officers were allegedly involved in the abduction of Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean national employed by shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries. A ransom of 8 million pesos ($160,594) was demanded from the victim's family after his murder.

Jee was strangled to death inside a vehicle parked in Camp Crame, the national police headquarters in Quezon City, according to a witness who thought the abduction was part of an anti-drug operation. Jee's body was taken to a crematorium owned by a retired policeman in northern Metro Manila.

The Philippine Justice Department found cause to charge six individuals involved in the kidnapping, at least three of whom are police officers.

The crime has sparked outrage in South Korea, where some 50,000 Filipinos work. A presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, criticized Duterte for failing to hold police accountable. Dela Rosa offered his resignation, but Duterte rejected it.

The scandal has triggered a senate inquiry, which also turned up evidence of police planting drugs during a raid on a business process outsourcing office.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday night with dela Rosa and members of the cabinet alongside, Duterte called for a crackdown on "scalawags" in uniform.

"I expect you to fight crime, including the police who are into crime -- they're all our enemies," Duterte said.

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