Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the country’s national police force to take a step back from the war on drugs after a recent poll showed a drop in his popularity ratings.
The order was contained in a memorandum that Duterte signed Tuesday directing the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement units to no longer take the lead role in the year-long campaign. Instead, he designated the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the “sole agency” tasked with investigating all drug-related cases in the country.
Formed in 2002, the PDEA was supposed to be the country’s lead agency for investigating and combatting illegal drugs.
A lack of manpower and funding forced it to play a secondary role to the police force, headed by Duterte’s trusted aide, Director General Ronald dela Rosa. Rights groups have blamed police for the deaths of thousands of alleged drug addicts and dealers.
Nearly 13,000 people have been killed since the police began the drug war last year, and about 3,000 of those deaths were drug related, with police saying that the suspects had fired first at arresting officers.
The vast majority, however, were considered as “deaths under investigation.”
In his memorandum, Duterte said all information gathered by police, the justice department, the armed forces as well as other related agencies should be “relayed, delivered or brought to the attention of the PDEA for its appropriate action.”
“The agency is also authorized to arrest and apprehend all violators as well as search and confiscate the effects or proceeds of the crimes,” Duterte said in the memo obtained Wednesday by BenarNews.
However, he ordered police to maintain visibility as they can be called upon to deter “illegal drug activities.”
Memorandum follows drop in popularity
The order came days after an independent survey by Social Weather Stations showed that Duterte’s popularity had dropped in the third quarter of 2017, reflecting the public’s waning support for his drug war.
The survey, carried out in September, showed Duterte’s satisfaction rating at 48 percent, an 18 percent decline from when he assumed power last year. But Duterte’s office has said the survey was carried out at about the same time that thousands of people were allowed to protest against the crackdown around Manila.
Three teenagers were among dozens killed by authorities since August. One of them was shown on a closed-circuit television camera being led away by two officers minutes before he was killed, contrary to official claims that he engaged the officers in a shootout.
The Catholic Church, to which most Filipinos belong, has said it has also been approached by some police officers seeking sanctuary because they could no longer take part in the killings.
Amid the mounting opposition, Duterte has moderated his tone, saying he would not protect police accused of murder in the name of his drug war. This was a complete turnaround from his earlier pledge that he would pardon all officers if they were found guilty of charges related to killings.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this story.