MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a memorandum allowing the Philippine National Police (PNP) to participate anew in the government's war against illegal drugs, a spokesman said Tuesday, almost two months after barring the police from participating in it due to a string of controversies.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), however, remains as the overall lead agency in the campaign against illegal drugs.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said in a news conference that Duterte signed the memorandum “directing the PNP to resume providing active support to the PDEA.”
“This supersedes the earlier memo that designated the PDEA as the ‘sole agency’ that will deal with the anti-illegal drug operations,” Roque said.
“They (PNP) can participate now whereas in the past they cannot do anything.”
Roque, reading the memorandum, said “there has been a notable resurgence in illegal drug activities and crimes since the PNP and the other law enforcement agencies were directed to leave to the PDEA as sole agency the conduct of all anti-illegal drugs campaigns and operations.”
“There is a clamor from the public to restore to the PNP and all other law enforcement agencies the responsibility of providing active support in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations.”
The memorandum recognizes the logistical and manpower needs of the PDEA, saying the drug war needs “agents and operatives who can penetrate drug-infected areas down to the municipal and barangay levels.”
Duterte had issued on October 10 a memorandum circular ordering the 2,000-strong PDEA to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign after the roughly 175,000-strong PNP faced allegations of abuse in the drug war, particularly in connection to the deaths of teenagers in various anti-drug operations.
This prompted the PNP to terminate its controversial "Oplan Double Barrel" and "Oplan Tokhang" campaigns. It then said it would shift to cleansing its ranks and addressing other crimes.
The government has many times defended Duterte’s war on drugs, where over 3,800 suspects have been killed in presumed-legitimate operations since the Duterte administration took over in mid-2016, according to official data.
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 drug war death toll at more than 10,000, a figure the government says is overblown.
Last January, the President 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 inside the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame.
A month later, Duterte ordered the force to go back to conducting anti-illegal drug operations, citing the supposed resurgence of the drug trade on the streets.
Police have claimed success in the anti-drug campaign, saying it has brought down criminality.