MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said he has yet to sign an order allowing the Philippine National Police (PNP) to take the lead on the war on drugs.
“I have not yet signed the executive order, but I’m inclined to call back the police and join again in the drug war,” Duterte said in a speech in Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan.
Duterte’s plan to lift police anti-narcotics operations attracted criticism from human rights groups and opposition lawmakers, saying the issues hounding the police force’s enforcement of the anti-illegal drugs campaign have yet to be resolved.
Duterte issued on October 10 a memorandum circular ordering the 2,000-strong Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign just as the roughly 175,000-strong PNP faced allegations of abuse in the drug war.
The President’s decision was made amid growing criticism against the PNP following the spate of teenager deaths in anti-drug raids in Metro Manila.
The October order prompted the PNP to terminate the controversial "Oplan Tokhang," its house-to-house knock and plead operations against drug suspects. It said it would shift to cleansing its ranks and addressing other crimes.
The government has many times defended Duterte’s war on drugs, where some 3,800 have died in legitimate police operations, according to police statistics.
Officials said slain drug suspects had put up violent resistance. The administration has also repeatedly asserted that it does not sanction summary killings nor condone police abuses.
Human rights groups, however, estimate the death toll at 13,000, a figure dismissed by the government as overblown.
In January, the President had also ordered the PNP to step back and allow the PDEA to take the lead in the war on drugs following the death of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo allegedly in the hands of police officials.
Jee was killed right inside the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame.
A month later, he ordered the force to go back to conducting anti-illegal drug operations, citing the resurgence of the drug trade on the streets.
The police has credited the anti-drug campaign in bringing the crime rate down.