Duterte scales down drug war after ratings dip
Philippine leader says new policy will lead to fewer deaths
CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer
MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has moved to scale down his controversial war on illegal drugs following a sharp drop in public support.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency will lead anti-drug operations instead of the Philippine National Police, Duterte ordered on Oct. 10. In response, the police on Thursday dissolved their anti-drug task forces and said they will focus on combating other crimes.
Duterte said there will be fewer deaths with the PDEA taking the lead. "So [it is] better for the bleeding hearts and the media. I hope I will satisfy you," he said on Thursday.
The PDEA has been mandated to add 1,280 more officers to its 2,300 force. The organization, however, is still much smaller than the police, which has over 180,000 personnel.
Duterte's decision to reorganize the anti-drug war -- a priority under his administration -- was announced after his net satisfaction rating fell to 48% in the third quarter, from 66% in the previous three months. Local pollster Social Weather Stations revealed the survey results on Sunday. Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the recent killings of young drug suspects may have dented Duterte's popularity.
The death of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos had become a symbol of police abuse in the war on drugs. The National Bureau of Investigation said the police planted evidence and intentionally killed the senior high school student, drawing public outrage.
Last year, rogue police officers also used the anti-drug campaign to extort money from the family of a South Korean businessman before killing him inside police headquarters. The case also prompted Duterte to suspend the campaign, but he revived it after a month.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros believes the drug war will continue to be bloody. "Unless the government's current anti-drug strategy is radically overhauled and the country's security forces are thoroughly cleansed of scalawags, whether it is the PDEA or PNP, the anti-drug campaign will continue to be bloody, abusive and prone to corruption," she said.
Duterte, a mayor from the southern island of Mindanao, won the presidential election las year by promising to kill as many as 100,000 people involved in the illegal drug trade. Upon assuming office, the police led the anti-drug operation, killing nearly 4,000 in a span of a little more than a year, but human rights group believe the number of casualties is higher.
The brutal crackdown has attracted criticisms from international groups. Early this week, a delegation of European parliamentarians was in Manila and called on the government to stop the killing, warning that the Philippines may lose trade privileges.
In July, foreign direct investment to the country reached a 13-month low. Some suggest investors are wary of the bloody war on drugs, as it has become a human rights issue.
Duterte on Thursday fired back and threatened to expel European Union ambassadors. "Now, the ambassadors of those countries listening now, tell me. Because we can have the diplomatic channel cut tomorrow. You leave my country in 24 hours, all. All of you!" Duterte said in an expletive-laden speech.
His office later rushed to clarify that Duterte's remarks were an "expression of anger," while the Foreign Ministry said there was no instruction to sever ties as of last night. The EU delegation in Manila said it "continues to operate and function as normal."