An exasperated President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday told his critics to “increase” their body count after he had ordered the Philippine National Police to rejoin his war on drugs.
A day after ordering the PNP to actively support the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in the war on drugs, Duterte said he hoped to “wipe out the scourge of drugs” within a year.
“I no longer have a story about extrajudicial killing. It will happen if it will happen. It cannot happen, if it cannot happen. I don’t care but I said on drugs that I hope to finish the problem maybe give me just another year,” Duterte said in a speech after the oath-taking of new government officials in Malacañang.
‘This is a sacred thing’
“I will not stop. I am determined to wipe out the scourge of drugs in this country. To me, this is a sacred thing. I vowed to do it,” he added.
Thousands of people have been killed by the PNP in the war on drugs, drawing expressions of concern from the United States, European Union, United Nations and international groups about human rights violations in the Philippines.
The killing of minors in August sparked widespread public anger that pulled down Mr. Duterte’s ratings, forcing him to demote the PNP in October and give the lead role in the war on drugs to the PDEA.
But a supposed “resurgence in illegal drugs” made him change his mind and order the PNP back to the campaign, although in just a supporting role.
Duterte’s decision alarmed the international group Human Rights Watch, which said in a statement on Wednesday that although the police were required to coordinate with the PDEA before carrying out drug raids, “the government’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the thousands of drug war deaths make it highly unlikely that the PDEA will be able to restrain well-documented police abuses.”
The PNP has recorded 3,806 deaths in the drug war, but human rights groups estimate the number at around 13,000, including deaths in drive-by shootings that police blame on a gang war but which rights groups claim are carried out by hired guns working for the police or by police themselves.
Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for Asia, said in the statement that the reactivation of the PNP was not unexpected, given Director General Ronald dela Rosa’s criticism of the PNP’s removal from the campaign and the lack of condemnation of the killings from Southeast Asian leaders who met in Manila in November, which may have “emboldened” Duterte.
“Those failures highlight the need for United Nations action to investigate these killings, and end the murderous police operations on urban poor communities,” Kine said.
“This effective ‘war on the poor’ may constitute crimes against humanity,” he added.
Duterte slammed human rights groups for blaming “all killings” on him and the war on drugs.
“They come here and say this is the list [of] the extrajudicially killed without saying when it was, where, how, and when it happened,” he said.
“Whatever happens there, they list it up as an extrajudicial killing. Is that your justice? And then you blame me for 10,000 [deaths], including those who died in ecstasy?” he said.
“You have to study why it happened, where did it start, how did it happen to the Republic of the Philippines, and not just show a list, go home and say ‘Duterte . . . these were the ones killed,’” he said.
“You add more to that because the police are coming back,” he added.
Duterte also said human rights activists should “take Valium” to calm their nerves.
“These human rights, give them medicine for them to calm down—Valium. Let them take it and let them sleep,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, Sen. Win Gatchalian said the PNP now had a chance to prove its critics wrong by avoiding “unnecessary bloodshed during antidrug operations.”
Gatchalian urged the PNP to strengthen discipline in its ranks, hold erring officers accountable much faster, and cleanse its ranks of rogue officers.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Mr. Duterte’s decision to order the police back to the crackdown on narcotics was a “practical approach,” noting that the PDEA was not capable of doing the job by itself, having only 1,000 men “to cover the whole archipelago.” —WITH REPORTS FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL AND CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO