Anti-nar­cotics chief warns of drug war slow­down

The Jakarta Post - - SPORTS - Manuel Mogato REUTERS/MANILA

The head of the Philip­pines’ anti-nar­cotics agency on Fri­day warned of a re­duced in­ten­sity in the coun­try’s war on drugs af­ter a re­moval of po­lice from the cam­paign, which he hoped would only be tem­po­rary as his unit lacked man­power.

Philip­pine Drug En­force­ment Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino said he had only a frac­tion of the per­son­nel and bud­get of po­lice, and hoped Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s de­ci­sion to make his agency re­spon­si­ble for all op­er­a­tions would not be last­ing.

“I know the pub­lic has high ex­pec­ta­tions but I am ask­ing the pub­lic for un­der­stand­ing be­cause of our lim­i­ta­tions,” he said in a ra­dio in­ter­view.

“I hope this is just a tem­po­rary ar­range­ment, we need the po­lice.”

Amid un­prece­dented scru­tiny of po­lice con­duct, the mer­cu­rial Duterte is­sued a mem­o­ran­dum on Tues­day or­der­ing po­lice to with­draw.

The au­thor­i­ties said the shift in strat­egy was to go af­ter big drug syn­di­cates.

Na­tional po­lice chief Ronald dela Rosa on Fri­day said po­lice could now fo­cus ef­forts on catch­ing mys­te­ri­ous gun­men who were as­sas­si­nat­ing drug users, to dis­prove al­le­ga­tions by hu­man rights groups that po­lice were be­hind such killings.

Po­lice say they have killed 3,900 peo­ple in their anti-drugs op­er­a­tions over the past 15 months and deny al­le­ga­tions by ac­tivists that many of those were ex­e­cu­tions.

Po­lice say they used deadly force in each of those cases, be­cause sus­pects were armed and had re­sisted ar­rest.

In a tirade on Thurs­day loaded with pro­fan­ity and aimed at his for­eign and do­mes­tic crit­ics, Duterte said deaths dur­ing PDEA’s op­er­a­tions were far less than po­lice, and hoped “bleed­ing hearts” would be sat­is­fied with his de­ci­sion.

PDEA’s Aquino said the pub­lic might no­tice a slow­down in op­er­a­tions. He planned to ask for a big­ger bud­get, to add 1,000-1,500 agents a year un­til 2022, adding it was un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect the PDEA to fight the prob­lem with its small num­bers.

PDEA has about 2,000 per­son­nel, 1,100 of which are agents, com­pared to more than 175,000 po­lice na­tion­wide.

Amid anger over a high-pro­file kid­nap and mur­der case in­volv­ing po­lice, Duterte sus­pended po­lice from the drugs war in Jan­uary and put PDEA in charge. He re­in­stated po­lice soon af­ter, say­ing drugs had flooded back to the streets.

In an in­ter­view with CNN Philip­pines, po­lice chief Dela Rosa sug­gested Duterte’s shift in strat­egy might have been a re­sponse to opin­ion polls that showed some pub­lic un­ease about the crack­down.

A sur­vey on Sun­day showed a sig­nif­i­cant slide in Duterte’s rat­ings, but an­other one by a dif­fer­ent poll­ster, re­leased on Fri­day, showed he was still hugely pop­u­lar.

Dela Rosa said po­lice were win­ning the cam­paign, hav­ing cut the drugs sup­ply, made 113,000 ar­rests and con­vinced what he said were 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple to sur­ren­der.

How­ever, he said it was “not a to­tal vic­tory.”

He said po­lice would con­cen­trate on stop­ping the shad­owy gun­men on mo­tor­cy­cles who were killing drug users, which po­lice have of­ten de­scribed as vig­i­lante mur­ders. Such killings are among the 2,600 mur­ders since July last year that po­lice be­lieve may have been drug-re­lated.

“Peo­ple think these are also po­lice­men, so I want these peo­ple stopped and ar­rested,” Dela Rosa said.

“We are in­ten­si­fy­ing in­tel­li­gence, max­i­miz­ing po­lice vis­i­bil­ity to stop these crim­i­nals. We have to shoot them be­fore they can shoot their tar­gets.”

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