PHILIPPINE National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa suspended the government’s war on drugs on Monday and created a new unit to go after police scalawags, hours after President Rodrigo Duterte described the police force as “corrupt to the core,” with 40 percent of cops involved in illegal activities.
“You crooked policemen, prepare now. We have temporarily halted our war on drugs. What we have now is a war on scalawags,” Dela Rosa said.
The campaign against rogue policemen was launched in response to a scandal in which members of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group were accused of abducting and killing South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo and extorting P5 million from his wife.
In a midnight news conference, Duterte said the police force was “corrupt to the core” and ordered the dissolution of all its anti-drug units.
“You policemen are the most corrupt. You are corrupt to the core. It’s in your system,” Duterte told reporters as he railed against the anti-drug officers who allegedly masterminded Jee’s murder inside national police headquarters.
Duterte admitted he was embarrassed by the kidnap-slay scandal, after defending the police repeatedly over the administration’s bloody war on drugs.
“When I said I’ll protect the police, I’ll protect the police. But I won’t protect lying,” Duterte said.
“This killing a Korean...They could have killed, strangled him anywhere but… it had to happen inside Camp Crame. [This] is really bad, we admit that. Something has to be corrected severely.”
“Because of this sordid incident, let me reorganize the system. My enemies here are the police who are criminals,” Duterte said, referring to them several times as sons of bitches.
His comments came seven months after he took office and immediately tasked police with being the frontline troops in his plans to wipe out the illegal drug trade that he said was threatening to turn the Philippines into a narco state.
Since then, police have reported shooting dead more than 2,500 people they have accused of being drug suspects, alleging on every occasion they had to open fire in self-defense.
Human rights groups and relatives of some of the victims have alleged police frequently shoot dead defenseless people, and often plant drugs and a gun on the bullet-riddled corpse.
Nearly 4,000 other people have died in unexplained circumstances in the crackdown, according to official figures.
Many of those victims have had signs placed on them labeling them drug traffickers or users.
On Monday, Dela Rosa said he would create a Counter Intelligence Task Force composed of 100 policemen headed by an official “with integrity and good morals” to go after scalawags inside the police force.
“This unit will police the police. We will ensure that the leader is beyond question, beyond doubt and with good moral character, and more importantly brave against bad policemen,” he said.
The new task force would concentrate on Metro Manila and Central Luzon, two regions that are supposed to be the most corrupt.
“For a start it will composed of 100 policemen composed of good men tasked to operate against scalawags in a syndicate,” Dela Rosa said, noting that the group will report directly to his office.
Dela Rosa said the involvement of rogue policemen in legitimate operations has tainted the government’s anti-illegal drugs war, with policemen planting evidence then extorting money from their victims.
He expressed regret that Duterte’s war on drugs would lose momentum as a result of the “stupidity” of some policemen.
“This a momentary defeat on our part because we stop [the anti-drugs campaign] but we will continue the war later, once we have retooled our troops [and] cleansed our ranks,” Dela Rosa said. “Everything will be ready to fight again another day,” Dela Rosa said.
“As for the drug lords, you have your day. This is your day. You may achieve your victory right now or this day maybe but as I have said, this is momentary victory on your part. You enjoy. There is always a time for reckoning,” Dela Rosa said.
With the PNP-AIDG dissolved, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency will assume the responsibility of waging the war on illegal drugs, but the police would still cooperate with the agency and local government units, Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa said the morale of the entire PNP has been rocked by the Jee scandal.
“As directed by the President, we agree to dissolve all anti-drug units at all levels, including [the] Anti-Illegal Drugs Group,” Dela Rosa said.
“We will cleanse our ranks … then maybe after that, we can resume our war on drugs. The President told us to clean the organization first.”
“I don’t know how long it will take to cleanse the PNP. But with each and every one of us cooperating, helping each other, maybe in a month, we can do it,” he said.
The President also said a PNP oversight committee will be created to look into the policemen who have been dismissed but found their way back to duty.
Duterte said policemen who had extortion cases against them would be sent to Mindanao to deal with terrorist groups as punishment.
“This cleansing is easy. All we have to do is look at the records of how many policemen have had cases, mostly involving extortion, and if they are reinstated—it’s over with... I’ll just gather them, bring them new uniforms, new combat boots. I have to have a strong presence in Basilan and Lanao, they’ll be the first I send there,” the President said.
Duterte added he would asked Congress to revisit the Philippine National Police law to simplify the police titles and units.
In his midnight news conference, Duterte reiterated that Dela Rosa would stay on as PNP chief despite calls for him to resign.
“What good will it do the police to remove Bato?” he said, referring to Dela Rosa by his nickname. “If there are still scalawags and criminals inside Crame, they will continue with or without Bato.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch called the pause in the anti-drug war in favor of internal cleansing as “nothing less than an empty public relations gesture,” due to the lack of interest in a probe of the police killings of 2,546 suspected drug users and drug dealers since July 1.”
“If Duterte and Dela Rosa continue to spurn their sworn obligation to protect the public and respect rule of law, many more Filipinos are at risk of unlawful killing,” HRW deputy director for Asia Phelim Kine said.
“De la Rosa has made clear that he has no interest in accountability for those deaths—his stated priority is to purge police ranks.
Critics questioned the sincerity of Duterte’s outrage against corrupt police, and asked why the police had been given such a free hand to kill in the name of the drug war if he knew so many were corrupt.
“How can a corrupt and fascist police force, where impunity is the norm, successfully stamp out criminal activities such as the illegal drug trade,” said Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan, a coalition of leftist activist groups.
“The body count will continue to rise and more criminals in uniform will wreck havoc on the people.”
Duterte repeatedly told police during the election campaign and after assuming the presidency that he would shield them from prosecution if they killed people as part of the crime war.
He also told police at Dela Rosa’s birthday party this month he would tolerate them engaging in illegal activities to earn “sideline” money, as long as that did not involve drugs.
“Go into smuggling, just don’t do drugs,” Duterte said.
Duterte said at the party he sympathized with the police for getting such low salaries, and he understood that they needed to get more income from other ways.
“I mean I’m not saying that we have to do illegal things. What I’m saying is that until such time that we [the government] can give you more and somebody offers to help, take it,” he said.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on the Laity on Monday welcomed the government’s suspension of war against drugs.
“It’s a good development. I hope they really push through with it,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the commission.
The Manila Auxiliary bishop noted if such operation will be stopped, it would also mean that the unexplained killings in the country will stop.
“Knowing that they’ve stopped the war on drugs, it means they should stop the extrajudicial killings,” the CBCP-ECL official added. With Sandy Araneta, Sara Susanne D. Fabunan, Maricel V. Cruz and AFP
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