"x x x.
EVEN Rodrigo Duterte, who initiated a bloodthirsty campaign against drug-dealers and drug-users on becoming president of the Philippines last year, and who brooks almost no criticism of his war on drugs, had to admit that the police had gone too far.
Policemen from the national drug squad, including senior officers, falsely accused a South Korean businessman of involvement in narcotics. They hauled him off to the national police headquarters in Manila, demanded ransom from his family, pocketed the money and then strangled him, burning his body and flushing the ashes down a lavatory.
After the National Bureau of Investigation, a separate agency, revealed all this, Mr Duterte ordered a pause in the campaign to give the police time to purge their ranks. He now wants the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, another independent force, to lead the war, which he says will continue until his term ends in 2022. Ronald Dela Rosa, the director-general of the police, said he was disbanding all its drug squads. He also instructed the entire force to observe a day of prayer (pictured).
When running for election last year, Mr Duterte promised to rid the Philippines of drugs by whatever means necessary. Even before he took office, the police showed unusual alacrity in anticipating his wishes, mounting operations in which officers often killed suspects alleged to have resisted arrest. In office, Mr Duterte has egged the police on, giving inflammatory speeches calling for the slaughter of drug-dealers, and promising to protect officers who kill suspects. He rebuffed, often rudely, expressions of concern that his campaign might be violating human rights.
The police’s own records indicate that since Mr Duterte became president in June officers have killed 2,555 drug suspects alleged to have resisted arrest. The figures indicate that another 3,603 killings connected with the drug trade remain unsolved. The victims had often been abducted, bound and tortured. Officers usually ascribe such deaths to fighting between drug gangs or to mysterious vigilantes. But many Filipinos assume that the police and gangs or vigilantes are often one and the same. In the 24 hours after the purge of the police was announced, reports of unexplained killings abruptly ceased.
Mr Duterte reacted to the scandal in typical fashion, holding a press conference in which he revealed a vague plan through a rambling monologue punctuated by coarse exclamations. “You son of a whore!” he said, addressing himself to the drug-squad officer suspected to be the mastermind of the kidnapping. The president offered a reward of 5m pesos ($100,000) for his capture. “Dead or alive,” Mr Duterte said. “If you bring him dead, the better.” Mr Dela Rosa leant in to whisper to the president that the officer was already in custody. Mr Duterte ploughed on, inveighing against the police force in general, which he described as corrupt to the core. “You use the power to enforce the law and arrest people for shenanigans,” he said. “Almost 40% or so of you guys are habituated to corruption.”
This assertion—in contrast to the standard mantra that only a small minority of officers are bad apples—drew attention. After all, Mr Duterte was a close ally of the police during his career as a prosecutor and then mayor of the Philippines’ third-biggest city. Until now he has unstintingly supported the tactics the police have used, and reserved expressions like “son of a whore” for their critics. In the unlikely event of the purge of the force leading to prosecutions, the question of whether the president turned a blind eye to murders of drug suspects—or even incited them—is bound to be asked. But if Mr Duterte is worried, he shows little sign of it. “I don’t give a shit,” he insists. “I have a duty to do, and I will do it.”
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “The usual suspects”
x x x."