MANILA — (UPDATED) Hundreds of top-ranking police in the Philippines were asked to resign Wednesday as the government seeks to "cleanse" the corruption-tainted force of officers involved in the illegal drug trade.
Police have been waging an anti-narcotics campaign launched by former president Rodrigo Duterte and continued by his successor Ferdinand Marcos.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos urged all colonels and generals -- about 300 in total -- to offer "courtesy" resignations after a probe found a "handful" were involved in drugs.
They could continue working while their records were assessed by a five-member committee. Those found guilty would have their resignations accepted, Abalos said.
"If you're not involved, there's nothing to worry about," Abalos told a news conference at national police headquarters in Manila.
Anyone who did not tender their resignation would be "questionable", he said.
Abalos described the approach as radical and a "shortcut" after previous investigations into allegedly corrupt officers took a long time and produced few results.
It is not the first time such drastic measures have been used to clean up the Philippine police force.
Former president Fidel Ramos cracked down on police in the early 1990s, ordering all officers over 56 years of age or with more than 30 years of service to resign. The chief of the national police and nine other senior officers resigned as a result.
'The only way'
The latest plan was recommended by police chief General Rodolfo Azurin and other senior officers, Abalos said. Azurin would be among those expected to tender his resignation while his record was checked, he said.
"This is the only way to cleanse the ranks in a fast manner," Abalos said.
"It's difficult to fight a war when it's your ally that will shoot you in the back."
But Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said it was a "preposterous" move and an insult to the memory of the thousands of people killed in the drug war.
"It does not serve the cause of justice and accountability -- far from it," Conde said.
"What Philippine authorities should be doing is investigate these police officials and file appropriate charges in court if warranted."
Police officers have killed thousands of alleged drug dealers and users since mid-2016, but critics say the wealthy and powerful have been largely untouched.
Allegations of police graft and abuse are common in the Philippines, with some officers accused of selling drugs seized in operations.
Duterte had pledged to root out deep-seated corruption but repeatedly expressed frustration and anger with the extent of the problem.
A security analyst said Abalos was taking a politically safer and less confrontational route to clean up the force.
"If nobody resigns, then he's got all the more justification to start going after corruption via the hard-power route," said Sam Ramos-Jones, director of operations at Philippine Strategic Associates, referring to the courts.
While the method would not rid the force of corruption on its own, it could "send the message to lower ranks that what may have been tolerated under previous leadership no longer will be".
© Agence France-Presse
© Agence France-Presse