Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would extend the war on drugs that won him the presidency in order to postpone anti-drug operations while the police conducted a “cleansing” of corrupt police abusing their authority.
The announcement followed Philippine National Police (PNP) head Ronald dela Rosa tendering his resignation in light of the murder of a South Korean businessman. Duterte rejected dela Rosa’s resignation, choosing him to lead the clean sweep.
“Cleanse your ranks. Review their cases. Give me a list of who the scalawags are,” Duterte said in public remarks announcing the new initiative, according to UPI. Duterte berated law enforcement officers as “the most corrupt.” “You are corrupt to the core. It’s in your system,” he said, claiming that 40 percent of police officers had committed illegal acts. He also suggested that the Philippines was home to four million individuals addicted to drugs and boosted the number of suspected accomplices in drug trafficking within the government up to two thousand. Duterte has published multiple lists of names of government officials he believes have ties to the drug trade.
Duterte also asserted that his war on drugs would continue until his last day in office, and he did not see how it would be possible to eradicate illegal drug-related activities between now and his original deadline, March. He excused the change of the March deadline stating that, before assuming the presidency, “I never knew about the extent of the problem,” and he thought that a nationwide operation would go more smoothly, based on his time as mayor of southern Davao City.
The “cleansing” of the police force, meanwhile, would begin with a complete dissolution and reconstruction of anti-drug police squads. “I will establish a new command. It could be a narcotics command or whatever appropriate name. But the name is not important,” he said, adding that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) would no longer be completely independent of the police, but work hand in hand.
Dela Rosa issued his own public remarks in which he revealed that he had attempted to resign for a second time after the abduction and murder of Jee Ick Joo, a businessman who had traveled to the Philippines from South Korea. Jee was kidnapped and killed by police officers, who then lied and told his family he was still alive in an attempt to collect a six-figure ransom.
In candid remarks, dela Rosa said he wanted to leave the job because “I am already tired. I am very much ashamed. I am very much embarrassed. I am very much disappointed… I want to go home. I want to go home to Davao.” Duterte rejected his resignation, however, and so dela Rosa will now preside over the law enforcement reshuffling.
“We will cleanse our ranks… then maybe after that, we can resume our war on drugs,” dela Rosa explained. “Rogue cops, beware!” He also used the president’s language, announcing, “We no longer have a war on drugs; we now have a war on scalawags.”
The Jee killing has created increased tensions between Seoul and Manila. Duterte addressed the situation personally on Monday, meeting with Jee’s widow, Choi Kyung Jin, who came to Manila following her husband’s death. “The President gave his assurance to the widow of slain South Korean businessman that justice would be swiftly served, and that their personal safety would be assured,” according to Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella. Police have arrested four officers in relation to Jee’s abduction and murder.
The murder has also alarmed an international human rights community that has vocally opposed the extrajudicial killings that Duterte advocated for during his campaign for the presidency. Philippine officials estimate that 7,000 people have died since June 30, when Duterte took office, as a result of police action against drugs. As a presidential candidate, Duterte promised 100,000 deaths. Tens of thousands of drug users have additionally surrendered to the police and joined rehabilitation programs, fearing that they would be killed otherwise.
In response to international pressure to cease the drug war, Duterte has issued numerous profane tirades and threatened to “whack… in the head” any United Nations observers sent to investigate the drug war.
A poll conducted in December found that 85 percent of Filipinos approve of Duterte’s war on drugs, even as 78 percent fear that they themselves, or a loved one, will die in an anti-drug police operation.