Military poised to join drug war

A protest against President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs at the Philippines Consulate General in New York City. Source: Wikimedia


The Philippine defence ministry says it has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an order for the military to join his “war on drugs”, including granting powers to arrest “scalawag” police officers.

The ministry asked Duterte to formalise a speech he made to a group of generals this week where he called for their help breaking the drugs trade, as well as to arrest police who were “corrupt to the core”.

The ministry reportedly asked for “an official order regarding this presidential directive to serve as a legal basis for our troops to follow”.

“By the same token, the president’s verbal directive to arrest ‘scalawag cops’ should also be covered by a formal order,” the ministry announced.

Duterte’s police chief ordered his personnel this week to halt anti-drug crackdown after the killing of a South Korean entrepreneur by drug-squad officers. Duterte was furious about the incident, which he said had “international implications”.

Duterte said anti-drugs officers had abused their power to engage in the kidnapping and strangulation of Jee Ick-joo inside the national police headquarters.

Duterte said: “I have ordered the police to stop all operations. No policeman in this country anywhere is allowed to enforce laws related to the drug campaign.”

The small Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency is taking the lead in Duterte’s quest to stamp out narcotics with fears that he might resort to martial law.

The agency’s 1,800 staff make up just over 1 per cent of the 160,000-strong national police.

Duterte’s call for military assistance is a U-turn after his dogged support for the police amid allegations from the international community and the domestic opposition about the large-scale, state-sponsored killings.

The 71-year-old former mayor has also said his drug war would continue until the end of his term in 2022, rather than this March as he had previously promised.

Amnesty International reported this week that police had behaved like the criminal underworld they are supposed to be tackling, taking payments for killings and delivering bodies to funeral homes.

It said the drugs-related killings appeared to be “systematic, planned and organised” by the authorities and could amount to crimes against humanity.

More than 7,600 people have been killed since Duterte launched his drugs crackdown last May.

Congressman Edcel Lagman said the sidelining of the police was “a blessing” and it was time to get tough.

“For the first time in six months there are no reports today of drug-related killings,” Lagman added. “There should be no more kids gloves for police scalawags who deserve an iron fist.”