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Rodrigo Duterte's drug war turning into a war on defenceless Filipinos
Sydney Morning Herald - February 3, 2017
The death toll already tops 7200 as armed troops are set to be sent into thousands of barangays, or wards, targeting mostly poor and defenceless Filipinos.
For decades Philippine soldiers have operated in a deeply rooted culture of impunity for serious crimes, including extrajudicial executions, claiming they were a result of "legitimate encounters." Only one soldier has been convicted of a killing in the country since 2001.
Unfazed by international condemnation over the death toll, Duterte has now vowed to "kill more" drugs suspects and declared he will issue an executive order for soldiers to take a frontline role against illicit drugs, which he describes as a national security threat.
The use of troops against civilians prompts memories of the dark days of martial law under the corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose ruthless rule eventually sparked a popular uprising that forced him and his family and top cronies into exile in 1986.
"Using military personnel for civilian policing anywhere heightens the risk of unnecessary or excessive force and inappropriate military tactics," said New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Instead of taking the blame for murders, kidnappings, stealing from the dead and planted evidence under the cover his war, Duterte has now declared his police force "corrupt to the core."
It took seven months of killings before Duterte this week decided to strip police and the National Bureau of Investigation, the country's equivalent of the FBI, of the powers to enforce the drugs war.
The former provincial mayor who was swept into office at elections in May last year ignored countless accounts of murders documented in media outlets, including Fairfax Media, until it became public that a South Korean businessman was kidnapped by police under the guise of the crackdown and strangled to death inside the grounds of the national police headquarters at Camp Crame.
National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said his force would now shift from targeting drugs suspects to tackling rampant corruption among police.
But Duterte declared the drugs war will continue until his term in office ends in 2022 under the leadership of the country's drug enforcement agency, backed by armed soldiers.
His administration responded to an Amnesty report on Wednesday detailing scores of atrocities not by denying police behaviour but by questioning the humanity of the thousands of victims.
"The criminals, the drugs lords, drugs pushers, they are not humanity," said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, a top Duterte ally.
Instead of deploying troops Duterte should now order impartial investigations into the killings of 2551 Filipinos by police who were repeatedly assured by him they would not be held accountable.
Police have failed to investigate or prosecute any officer responsible for the killings despite compelling evidence that police units had summarily gunned down suspects, or arranged paid hit men to carry out targeted assassinations.
Investigations should start with the killings of children as young as five which Duterte has shrugged off as collateral damage.
Unless the president calls a halt to the culture of impunity in his drugs war and withdraws the troops there is little doubt the appalling death toll will continue to rise.