Philippines to form drugs battalion

The Philippine military is famously under-invested. Source: Wikimedia

The Philippine armed forces chief says he will create a battalion-sized task force with the anti-narcotics agency to continue President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

Duterte, 71, has also given soldiers the powers to arrest “scalawag” police.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, General Eduardo Ano, said his personnel were “ready to operate” with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

“[The drug-busting task force] is yet to be created, but we are talking about a battalion size,” Duterte told the press in Baguio, where he attended a military ceremony.

More than 7,700 people have been killed in seven months in the crackdown.

Anywhere between 500 and 5,000 troops could be mobilised, the general said.

“We will not be involved in the street, we’ll not be involved in running after street pushers,” Ano said, in reference to street killings by the police since Duterte took power last year. “The armed forces will help the PDEA in running after high-level drug syndicates.”

It was revealed in January that drug squad police had killed a South Korean businessman at the national police headquarters.

Speaking at the army’s alumni homecoming event, Duterte said: “I need the help of each one, especially the military, not for social control but protection [for] the citizens from the lawless, the reckless and the selfish.”

He told the military event that his drugs crackdown had been “by and large successful”, but admitted that the problem was more complex than he had thought and the military now needed to play a role.

The troops would only support in the campaign and not patrol or play any kind of leading role, said PDEA commander Isidro Lapena.

More than 10,000 people joined a prayer protest earlier in the weekend, called a “Walk for Life”, to protest against proposals to reintroduce the death penalty and the extrajudicial killings from the drug war.

Wearing white, the protesters prayed the rosary together with participants coming from around 15 dioceses.

“This only shows that they want to express themselves,” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said. “The people are standing up for life and they are against these methods of death. So I hope that the government will listen to the people.”

A joint Christian protest was held in Bacolod, condemning the death penalty.