MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he would soon bring back the Philippine National Police (PNP) to the war on drugs, just over a month after directing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to lead the campaign.
In a speech in front of soldiers in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, Duterte said he would bring the police back to the frontlines of the drug war to prevent the illegal drug trade from thriving once more.
He had been hinting in his recent speeches that he might bring the PNP back to the anti-drug campaign should the peace and order situation in the country worsen.
“But as of now, just to parry, nilagay ko sa PDEA. But whether I like it or not, I have to return that power to the police because, surely, it will increase the activity of the shabu,” Duterte said in his speech.
Duterte issued on October 10 a memorandum circular ordering the 2,000-strong PDEA 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.
This 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.