MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he hoped a shift to target big networks in his war on drugs would satisfy “bleeding hearts” and interfering Western states fixated on the high death toll in his brutal crackdown.
In a televised speech, Mr Duterte read a memorandum that removes police from the drugs war and places the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge, then launched a curse-laden tirade at foreign critics of a campaign that has killed thousands of Filipinos.
Mr Duterte appeared to target some European parliamentarians among a group called the Progressive Alliance, which on Monday said it was “extremely alarmed” by the drugs war and warned the Philippines risked losing trade privileges because of unchecked abuses by police during his campaign.
“I am not interested anymore in using any other [agency], just let PDEA,” he said.
“They seem to want it, I want, as a last word, maybe this would suffice for the stupid European Union guys. They were all focused on how many deaths.”
The EU delegation in Manila issued a statement clarifying that it had no involvement in the visit by the Progressive Alliance.
It was unclear whether the decision to change tactics in the anti-drugs campaign was influenced by Western pressure.
The administration yesterday said the shift was to target “big fish”, moving away from street level operations to go after big networks and suppliers.
Police disbanded all 18 regional anti-drugs units yesterday. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the new aim was for the PDEA to target “higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government”.
That message will sound familiar, with similar announcements a year ago when a new phase of the drugs war was launched to catch producers and suppliers.
Critics say that never happened and small-time dealers and users and the urban poor continued to bear the brunt of the 3,900 killings by police. Police say armed suspects resisted arrest in every one of those cases and they deny allegations victims were executed.
Mr Duterte was furious yesterday and appeared to suggest European lawmakers had warned the Philippines could lose its UN membership.
He lashed out at Western powers who colonised countries, started wars, “stole” oil from the Middle East, and said they had import terrorism to their own shores.
Mr Duterte dared them to cut ties with the Philippines and have their ambassadors leave within 24 hours. He said his new alliances with Russia and China – UN Security Council permanent members – would keep the Philippines in the United Nations.
“We will be excluded in the UN? You son of a bitch. Go ahead. You are interfering in our affairs because we are poor. You give money and then you start to orchestrate what things should be done,” he said.
“You bullshit. We are past the colonisation stage. Don’t fuck with us.”