There is a “strong likelihood” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will lift a suspension on police from his war on drugs, his spokesman said on Thursday, a move likely to alarm activists who accuse police of committing murder under the guise of drug busts.
Amid international concern over the staggering death toll and several killings of youngsters, President Rodrigo Duterte last month suspended police anti-narcotics operations for a second time and put the country’s undermanned drugs enforcement agency, PDEA, in charge, reports Reuters.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque reiterated Duterte’s concern expressed last week that the drugs problem could intensify and gains might be lost with the Philippine National Police (PNP) sidelined.
“A decision will soon be made,” Roque told a regular briefing.
“That’s the president’s call. If he thinks it (the war on drugs) must be returned (to the PNP) then it must be, the PDEA has been given enough time.”
He added: “Effectively he has manifested already a decision to return it to the PNP.”
Close to 4,000 mostly urban poor Filipinos have been killed in what police say are anti-drug operations. Human rights groups and political opponents say executions of drug users and small-time peddlers have been widespread, but police insist those killed were all dealers who put up violent resistance.
Police have rebuffed criticism and cite 117,000 arrests as proof that their policy is to preserve life. They also deny links to at least 2,000 mysterious street killings of drug users.
Roque said Duterte knew the police had flaws and would not tolerate abuses, but he still believed in them.
He suspended police in January and reinstated them five weeks later, arguing that drugs were pouring back to the streets.
It is unclear why he removed them again on Oct. 11. His directive was to “bring order” to the campaign, but in angry, at times incoherent speeches, he suggested he was trying to appease the international community.