The Philippines has dismissed nearly 400 police officers in a nationwide crackdown since mid-2016, police said on Friday, as President Rodrigo Duterte pushes to clean up a force notorious for abuses.
Most dismissals were for robbery, extortion, or absences, while serious crimes, such as kidnapping and protecting drug dealers, figured in some others, Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao said in a statement. He called the campaign an “uncompromising stand against breach of discipline.” None of the officers were dismissed for their conduct in police operations that were part of Duterte’s fierce war on drugs, during which officers have killed more than 4,000 people.
Activists say police are systematically executing drug suspects, but police reject that and say killings were in self-defence, citing their more than 120,000 drug-related arrests as proof of their intent to preserve life.
The dismissals cover the 19 months Duterte has been in office. About 60 arrests of police were for bribery offences committed during 24 entrapment operations by the counter-intelligence task force.
About 1,700 officers were disciplined, with measures ranging from reprimands, demotions and suspensions, to dismissals. Those involved in criminal activities face cases in the courts.
In the past 11 months, police had received more than 10,000 complaints through tip-offs sent by text messages and telephone calls, Bulalacao said.
About 15 per cent of the complaints were investigated and validated, resulting in arrests of police officers, most of them in the capital, Manila, and surrounding areas.
Bulalacao said 167 officers were found to have been using drugs or were involved in drug-related crimes.
Duterte has limited tolerance for errant police and has called the force “rotten”.
But he has steadfastly backed those fighting his war on drugs and even vowed to protect them from prosecution. But he insists he has never given an order to kill, other than in self-defence.
On Thursday, he ordered police and soldiers not to cooperate in any investigation into his drugs war.
Western countries and rights groups have expressed alarm over the killing by police of more than 4,000 Filipinos since Duterte took office in June 2016, plus hundreds more killings of drug users by unknown gunmen.
“When it comes to human rights, or whoever rapporteur it is, my order to you: Do not answer. Do not bother,” Duterte said in a speech before elite armed police units in his home city of Davao late Thursday.
“And who are you to interfere in the way I would run my country? You know very well that we are being swallowed by drugs,” Duterte added.
The Philippines on Tuesday welcomed a United Nations investigation into Duterte’s signature anti-narcotics campaign, but not if it is conducted by the current UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, who Manila has accused of bias and of not being qualified. An International Criminal Court prosecutor has opened a preliminary examination into a complaint accusing Duterte and top officials of crimes against humanity in the anti-drugs campaign. Duterte says he welcomes that and is willing to “rot in jail” to protect Filipinos. Human rights advocates have said many of the police killings in the drugs war have been executions. Police deny the allegations, saying they had to use deadly force because the suspects were armed and had resisted arrest.
Despite criticism of the Philippine leader’s bloody anti-narcotics campaign, Duterte remains wildly popular and is the country’s most trusted public official, according to opinion polls.