Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he hoped a shift to target big networks in his war on drugs would satisfy “bleeding hearts” and interfering Western states fixated on the high death toll in his brutal crackdown.
In a televised speech, Duterte read a memorandum that removes police from the drugs war and places the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge, then launched a curse-laden tirade at foreign critics of a campaign that has killed thousands of Filipinos.
Duterte appeared to target some European parliamentarians among a group called the Progressive Alliance, which on Monday said it was “extremely alarmed” by the drugs war and warned the Philippines risked losing trade privileges because of unchecked abuses by police during his signature campaign.
“I am not interested anymore in using any other (agency), just let PDEA,” he said.
“They seem to want it, I want, as a last word, maybe this would suffice for the stupid European Union guys.
They were all focused on how many deaths.”
The European Union delegation in Manila issued a statement clarifying that it had no involvement in the visit by the Progressive Alliance.
It was unclear whether the decision to change tactics in the anti-drugs campaign was influenced by Western pressure.
The administration yesterday said the shift was to target “big fish”, moving away from street level operations to go after big networks and suppliers. Police disbanded all 18 regional anti-drugs units yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the new aim was for PDEA to target “higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government”.
That message will sound familiar, with similar announcements a year ago when a new phase of the drugs war was launched to catch producers and suppliers.
Critics say that never happened and small-time dealers and users and the urban poor continued to bear the brunt of the 3,900 killings by police.
Police say armed suspects resisted arrest in every one of those cases and they deny allegations victims were executed.
Duterte was furious yesterday and appeared to suggest European lawmakers had warned the Philippines could lose its UN membership.
Duterte lashed out at Western powers who colonised countries, started wars, “stole” oil from the Middle East, and said they had import terrorism to their own shores.
He dared them to cut ties with the Philippines and have their ambassadors leave within 24 hours. He said his new alliances with Russia and China — UN Security Council permanent members — would keep the Philippines in the United Nations.
“We will be excluded in the UN? Go ahead. You are interfering in our affairs because we are poor. You give money and then you start to orchestrate what things should be done,” he said.
“We are past the colonisation stage.”
Duterte’s spokesman Abella later clarified that Duterte’s “expression of outrage” was a reaction to the Progressive Alliance, which had “falsely portrayed itself as an EU mission” and made irresponsible statements.
The strategic shift in his war on drugs comes at a difficult time for Duterte, who though still hugely popular, saw a sharp decline in ratings according to a poll released on Sunday.
It also followed an anti-Duterte protest last month by thousands of people and rare public outrage over the killing by police of a teenager.
Several surveys released recently show doubts among Filipinos about the validity of police accounts, and whether victims were all drug dealers.
With only a fraction of the manpower and budget of the police, PDEA will have a challenge to keep up the intensity of the crackdown.
Duterte placed PDEA in charge in January and suspended police from anti-drugs operations. But he reinstated them a few week later, arguing drugs had returned to the streets.
PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon said the agency was up to the task. “We are ready, we can do it,” Carreon said. “We will target the source, the so-called big fish. Removing these high-value targets will also eliminate the street level distribution and disrupt the entire network.”
Duterte acknowledged the death toll in PDEA’s operations was smaller than that of police, and said human rights groups and the media should be happy.
“Let’s go there. No death, no encounter. So better for the bleeding hearts and media. I hope I will satisfy you,” he said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened yesterday to expel European ambassadors within 24 hours, accusing their governments of plotting to have Manila expelled from the United Nations. Duterte signalled in a fiery speech he would not tolerate European criticism of his drug war.
Duterte accused the European Union of interfering in the Philippines’ domestic affairs, and alleged it wanted to get the country removed from the UN.
Duterte said he was prepared to kick European ambassadors out of the country if their governments tried to expel the Philippines.
“You think we are a bunch of morons here. You are the one. Now the ambassadors of those countries listening now, tell me, because we can have the diplomatic channel cut tomorrow. You leave my country in 24 hours, all, all of you.”
The EU has made no public comments about wanting to remove the Philippines from the United Nations, and Duterte did not explain his reasons for suspecting they were.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella later said the EU lawmakers’ comments justified Duterte’s expulsion threat against the EU ambassadors.
“This delegation’s irresponsible statements protesting the alleged killings under the Duterte Administration demean our status as a sovereign nation,” Abella said.
“For so long has our president tolerated these undue interferences in our domestic affairs, and he has decided that these must stop if only to preserve the integrity and dignity of our State as a sovereign nation.”
A statement released by EU delegation to the Philippines yesterday night also said the group that came to Manila was not a European Union mission.
It emphasised the EU wanted to work with the Philippines at the UN, rather than expel it.
“The EU and the Philippines work constructively and productively together in a close partnership in many contexts and areas, including, of course, in the UN context,” the statement said.
However the EU parliament issued a resolution last year expressing concern over the “extraordinarily high numbers killed during police operations” in the drug war. It urged Duterte to “put an end to the current wave of extrajudicial executions and killings”.
Duterte won elections last year after vowing to eradicate the illegal drug trade in six months, and vowing that 100,000 people would be killed in the process.
Aside from the nearly 4,000 people police have confirmed killing in anti-drug operations, thousands of others have died in unexplained circumstances.
Rights groups say those deaths are partly due to police or gunmen-for-hire killing suspected addicts and traffickers as they follow Duterte’s repeated calls for deaths. Duterte said last year he would be “happy to slaughter” 3mn addicts.
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