The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has resumed police anti-drug operations in response to what it describes as a “clamor from the public.”
The source of that alleged “clamor” was unlikely to be Manila’s urban poor areas, the epicenter of the killing zones linked to the “drug war” that Duterte began after taking office in June 2016. Poor urban dwellers have constituted the vast majority of what nongovernmental organizations and media outlets estimate have been more than 12,000 victims of a killing campaign that Human Rights Watch research has linked to numerous extrajudicial executions by police and their agents. This effective “war on the poor” may constitute crimes against humanity.
On October 12, Duterte suspended police anti-drug operations and assigned all drug enforcement to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), relegating the police to “forwarding of intelligence information to PDEA.” Duterte implicitly acknowledged the decision was linked to growing domestic and international furor over the drug campaign’s horrific human toll by stating the suspension would be “better for the bleeding hearts and media.” Duterte declared a similar one-month suspension in January, following revelations of the brutal murder of a South Korean businessman by anti-drug police.
The reactivation of police anti-drug operations officially requires police to first “consult” with the PDEA. But the government’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the thousands of drug war deaths make it highly unlikely that the PDEA will be able to restrain well-documented police abuses.
The resumption of police anti-drug operations was not wholly unexpected. National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who fully supported Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, had criticized the suspension, saying, “Drug pushers are saying hallelujah.” Duterte may also have been emboldened by the unwillingness of either US President Donald Trump or fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders to publicly challenge the drug war slaughter during the ASEAN 2017 Summit, which the Philippines hosted in November.
Those failures highlight the need for United Nations action to investigate these killings, and to end the murderous police operations on urban poor communities.