Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has announced a temporary suspension of his violent ‘war on drugs’ while he addresses the problem of police corruption.
He told a press conference that he intends to abolish the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) anti-drugs units and replace them with ‘an anti-narcotics body that will work hand in hand with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)’. The announcement follows the alleged murder of a Korean businessman on police headquarters.
Duterte came to power last May after campaign-trail promises to ‘fatten the fishes’ in Manila Bay on the bodies of dead criminals. Within a few months 3,000 people –predominantly drug dealers and drug users – were estimated to have become victims of the president’s ‘war on drugs’ (DDN, October 2016, page 8), allegedly killed either by police or state-sanctioned vigilante action. Despite widespread international condemnation, the death toll is now more than double that and Duterte has vowed to continue the policy until the end of his presidency in 2022.
Human Rights Watch has called for a UN-led independent international investigation into alleged unlawful killings by the Philippines police. ‘Suspending police anti-drug operations could reduce the killings, but they won’t stop without a meaningful investigation into the 7,000 deaths already reported,’ said the organisation’s deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine. ‘The Philippine police won’t seriously investigate themselves, so the UN should take the lead in conducting an investigation. Unless there is an independent international investigation into these killings, and soon, the already long list of grave rights violations linked to the “drug war” will only continue to grow.’