Duterte says police may return to drugs war

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Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a bilateral with China's Premier Li Keqiang. AFP

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that the police would reassume their lead role in implementing his war on drugs if the narcotics problem worsens and that nobody could stop his campaign, not even US President Donald Trump.

The firebrand leader ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to withdraw from the campaign a few weeks ago amid unprecedented scrutiny of police conduct in the campaign, which has killed thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers.

“If human rights (advocates) are thinking that Trump or whoever the human rights (advocates believe) can stop me, I’m sorry,” Mr Duterte said in a speech at a business event in his hometown Davao City.

“The drug problem, if it becomes worse again, the police has to enter the picture. I want it eradicated if possible,” he said.

The Philippines has drawn international criticism for the killing of 3,900 people in police anti-drugs operations over the past 15 months, but the police deny allegations by human rights advocates that many of the killings were executions.

The police say they had to use deadly force in each case because the suspects were armed and had resisted arrest.

Mr Duterte has given the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) the responsibility for all anti-narcotics operations. But PDEA chief Aaron Aquino said last month that without police participation the intensity of the war on drugs could lessen.

Mr Aquino said he had only a fraction of the personnel and budget of the police and hoped Mr Duterte’s decision to make his agency responsible for all operations would not be lasting.

Mr Trump, who was in Manila recently for a summit of Asian and Western nations, did not apply any pressure over the drugs war on Mr Duterte, with whom he said he had a “great relationship”.

But Mr Duterte attacked Canada’s leader Justin Trudeau at the end of the summit for raising questions about human rights and executions under the anti-narcotics campaign.

In Davao, Mr Duterte described the “shabu” or methamphetamine trade in the Philippines as “an organised crime” that involves “a merchandise for the poor”, explaining why most of those that were killed during police operations were from poor communities.

“It’s an organised crime. The act of one is the act of all. The liability of one is the same liability for all,” he said.

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