MANILA, Philippines — Having the Armed Forces of the Philippines implement the government's war on drugs only transfers responsibility for drug-related deaths from the Philippine National Police, Sen. Leila De Lima said Wednesday.
"The real problem is not the PNP or AFP per se, but the monstrous policy hatched in the bowels of Davao City and that gave rise to more than a thousand dead in that city and over 7,000 in the whole country," De Lima, who has been critical of the government's approach to the drug problem, said.
During her time as chair of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima investigated killings in Davao allegedly ordered by then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. The investigation did not lead to cases being filed.
De Lima stands has been accused of, but has not been charged for, protecting drug convicts in the New Bilibid Prison and collecting money from them when she was Justice secretary to President Benigno Aquino III.
Oplan Tokhang is an anti-drug operation where police knock on the doors of suspected drug personalities and ask them to surrender. The campaign uses drug lists that have supposedly been validated at the barangay level.
More than 7,000 have already been killed since the government launched the campaign. Police say, however, that those killed in raids and sting operations fought back and forced police teams to kill them. Most of the deaths have been blamed on vigilantes and on an "internal cleansing" by drug syndicates.
Duterte, who has repeatedly said that he will back police officers who are charged in relation to the drug war, has ordered the military to arrest rogue police officers while the PNP undergoes an internal cleansing. He added the AFP will be tasked with helping in the war on drugs.
Military units had been lending support to the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in drug operations even before the announcement.
The PNP has put anti-narcotics operations on hold after it was found that a Korean businessman was abducted and killed by police officers from an anti-drug unit. The abduction in October 2016 was done under the guise of a legitimate operation. PNP Director General Ronald Dela Rosa said the businessman, Jee Ick-Joo, was killed in the PNP's headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
"Let me reorganize the enforcement diyan sa drugs sa police. In the meantime, they would be arrested and I will order you to arrest them," Duterte told the military during the oath-taking of newly promoted generals in Malacañang.
De Lima, however, said that the problem is allowing "a government anti-drug program that sanctions killings and violations of human rights," and not what government agency is tasked with implementing it.
She added that the problem is with the president's "single-minded obsession" with drugs.
"The solution is to stop the killings, and not call out the AFP to do the killings that the PNP has supposedly ceased to perform," De Lima said.
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