MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has called on police to once again take the lead role in his deadly drug war, having twice demoted them in response to criticism of the crackdown.
The fiery leader, who rights groups say may be orchestrating a crime against humanity with his bloody anti-drugs campaign, said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) with 2,000 officers was incapable of doing the job.
“Whether I like it or not, I have to return that power to the police,” he said in a speech on Wednesday night.
Duterte, 72, was elected last year on a promise to eradicate drugs from Philippine society by launching an unprecedented campaign in which up to 100,000 people would die.
He first ordered the police to take a step back in January, describing them as “corrupt to the core” and instructing the PDEA to lead after revelations that officers kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman.
But it wasn’t long before Duterte reinstated the 165,000-strong force without any major reforms, re-launching the war under the name “Double Barrel Reloaded” — so-called for the two-pronged police strategy to wipe out drugs.
In October, he announced the PDEA would again take the helm in the face of mounting public opposition, including rare street protests triggered by the murder of three teenagers — allegedly by police officers.
His latest decision follows a regional summit in Manila this month where US President Donald Trump and most other world leaders were silent on allegations of extrajudicial killings in the drug war.
Trump instead hailed his “great relationship” with Duterte and praised him for hosting the meeting, a move rights groups say may have emboldened Duterte to pursue his campaign.
Duterte last month admitted that he removed police from the drug war “in deference” to critics including rights campaigners, Catholic bishops and the European Union.
Neither Duterte nor his spokesman Harry Roque said when police would rejoin.
Asked about government reforms this time around, Roque told reporters on Thursday: “He (Duterte) has also said that by and large, not everyone in the (police) is corrupt and therefore he still believes in the institution.”
Since Duterte took office, police have reported killing 3,967 people in the crackdown.
Another 2,290 have been murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.