Duterte: I won’t interfere in drug war anymore
President Duterte on Friday said he would no longer interfere in antidrug operations and had told the police to move away if they chanced upon such an activity and just leave the matter entirely up to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
Mr. Duterte, in an interview aired on PTV 4 on Friday but taped on Thursday, said his move was in response to criticisms over the deaths of thousands in the drug war.
“You know why? Because that is what you want, you are blaming the government for almost everything,” he said, apparently addressing his critics.
“If there are drug operations, I told police ‘Do not interfere. If you see a chase and they say it’s drugs, you leave. Let them be.’ So if somebody dies, the priests, you go to PDEA,” he added.
He said he didn’t want to have anything to do with the drug war anymore.
“I will not anymore interfere. I am not washing my hands. I just don’t want to be involved anymore,” he said.
The President on Tuesday made the PDEA the lead agency in his administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, demoting the police, which had drawn public outcry over the thousands of drug-related killings in the country.
Asked about whether he thought the PDEA could take on the drug network on its own, Mr. Duterte said sarcastically that human rights advocates might be able to help.
“Human rights should help the PDEA. They should go after [the drug lords],” he said.
PDEA chief Aaron Aquino said the administration’s war on drugs would be made transparent and less bloody, but warned that its intensity could decline as the agency lacked manpower.
“I want it to be a transparent operation. [The] media will always be invited [to] our operations. We will always wear our body cams during operations,” he told the Inquirer in a text message.
Fraction of PNP budget
Aquino said the PDEA’s budget and personnel were only fractions of those of the Philippine National Police, which had led the drug war until Tuesday.
In a speech in Dumaguete City, the President said his decision to make the drug war the sole responsibility of the PDEA could have grave consequences.
“Now, if the PDEA can do it, well, that’s what you want, to pinpoint the responsibility and anyway, the law says it’s the PDEA who would be the lead agency,” he said.
“Okay, but that is fraught with so many grave consequences. But it’s being appreciated by the priests, by the human rights [advocates],” he added.
Mr. Duterte did not say what the consequences might be, but explained that he took a risk with his decision.
“I gambled on that, but everybody knows—the military and the police—the consequences could be far more serious,” he said.
In a tirade on Thursday loaded with profanity and aimed at his critics, Mr. Duterte said he hoped his order to withdraw the police would satisfy the “bleeding hearts and the media.”
‘He listens to people’
Mr. Duterte moved after his public satisfaction and trust ratings suffered double-digit drops—substantial declines that his allies and critics attributed to the rash of brutal murders of teenagers allegedly by policemen carrying out “Oplan Tokhang.”
Malacañang said the President’s decision to designate the PDEA as the lead in the drug war showed he knew how to listen to the people.
“The President gave the directive in order to accommodate, apparently to accommodate, those who think that the campaign against drugs should be conducted otherwise,” said presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
But leaving the campaign in the hands of the PDEA may not be enough to stop the spate of alleged extrajudicial killings, according to an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Fr. Jerome Secillano, the executive secretary of the CBCP’s permanent committee on public affairs, said the PDEA should also veer away from the failed strategy of the PNP.
“It only resulted to the death of poor people and drugs continued to proliferate. But with the change in personnel, there should also be a shift in strategy,” Secillano said.
NBI to cease drug operations
Like the PNP, the National Bureau of Investigation has also been ordered to cease its antidrug operations.
In a department memo on Friday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the NBI, which had an anti-illegal drugs division, would “leave to the PDEA all operations against illegal drugs.”
Policemen have killed some 3,850 drug suspects, each of whom for supposedly resisting arrest, since July 1 last year when Mr. Duterte launched the campaign.
Some 2,000 others have been killed by unknown assailants, whom human rights campaigners believe are hired guns working for the police.
Slowdown in operations
Aquino said he hoped the President’s decision to make his agency responsible for all operations would not be long term. The public might notice a slowdown in operations, he added.
“I know the public has high expectations but I am asking the public for understanding because of our limitations,” he said in a radio interview. “I hope this is just a temporary arrangement; we need the police.”
“I cannot make assurances but there will be lesser deaths,” Aquino added.
He said the PDEA would now go after big drug syndicates, a strategy that dovetails with the CBCP’s wish.
“The PDEA should run after the manufacturers, cartels or syndicates, rather than merely prey on small-time pushers and poor addicts,” Secillano said.
But Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, a fierce critic of the administration’s drug war, expressed doubts that the PDEA could stop the drug killings.
“Can the PDEA put a stop to killings of the same drug suspects by death squads?” David said.
‘Backed by facts’
Asked if this indicated that the move had not been studied before it was put into effect, he said Mr. Duterte was backed up by “facts and figures.”
“For example, the PDEA has lesser deaths under—it lessened drug-related operations. And so he says, if this seems to be more accommodating to the mood of the times, then let’s see how it goes,” Abella said.
Aquino planned to ask for a bigger budget and to add 1,000-1,500 agents a year until 2022. PDEA has about 2,000 personnel, 1,100 of whom are agents, compared to about 175,000 policemen nationwide.
The PNP chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, lamented that the police were “winning the campaign,” with the drug supply slashed and 113,000 arrests, when Mr. Duterte ordered the police to yield the lead to the PDEA.
In Camp Olivas in Pampanga, regional police director Chief Supt. Amador Corpus on Friday dissolved all drug-enforcement units and limited their operations to intelligence gathering.
Drug-related cases under investigation in all seven provinces under his jurisdiction would be turned over to the PDEA, he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM TONETTE OREJAS AND THE WIRES