In a speech on Tuesday, controversial president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, told the heads of his military that he needed their help in his “war on drugs,” as well as to aid in his efforts to expel corruption from the police force. On Wednesday, the Philippine defense ministry asked him to issue a formal order allowing them to take action.
The defense ministry asked the president for “an official order regarding this presidential directive to serve as a legal basis for our troops to follow.” They continued in their official statement, “By the same token, the president’s verbal directive to arrest ‘scalawag cops’ should also be covered by a formal order.”
Duterte launched a very real “war on drugs” since taking power after serving as a city mayor. In his seven month anti-drug campaign thus far, it has been reported that more than 7,600 people have been killed, with at least 2,500 of those deaths coming at the hands of the police. The remainder is said to be due to vigilante efforts and turf wars between drug operations.
The wave of deaths resulting in Duterte anti-drug campaign has been widely criticized by world leaders and human rights groups alike, with Amnesty International accusing the police in the Philippines of operating like the criminals they are charged with stopping. They claim the police have begun taking payments for killings and even delivering the bodies of dispatched “drug dealers” to funeral homes themselves.
The deaths of thousands of people with no trials or convictions appeared to be “systematic, planned and organized” by authorities, Amnesty International states, and constitutes what they consider to be crimes against humanity.
The president’s drug war came to a sudden halt on Monday, however, after it came to light that corrupt law enforcement officials had killed a prominent South Korean businessman. Duterte, infuriated by this turn of events, commanded all anti-drug operations to cease immediately as he pursued avenues to purge the police force of corruption. It would appear his plan is now to utilize the military as a supplement, or even replacement, for the problem-riddled Philippine National Police (PNP).
Duterte drew fire last month from many in the international community for suggesting that he might consider declaring martial law in order to stifle the flow of drugs throughout his nation. He warned in mid-January that he’d order the military to step in if things deteriorated into “something really very virulent,” adding, “No one can stop me. My country transcends everything else, even the limitations.”
“This is clearly meant to establish authoritarian rule to enforce his goals of cleaning society of drugs, crime and corruption, and he is happy to slaughter three million Filipinos to do this,” said Loretta Rosales, a former chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines who was detained and tortured under President Marcos in 1965.
“I suspect he idolizes the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and this manifests in his behavior,” Ms. Rosales added.
At the time, the president’s communications secretary, Martin Andanar, accused the media of misreporting the president’s remarks and sewing panic among the people of the Philippines.
“He mentioned declaring martial law only under the premise that the country has deteriorated into an utter state of rebellion and lawlessness,” Andanar said of Mr. Duterte. “As president, he recognizes the challenges and limitations set by our Constitution in declaring martial law, but he would nonetheless act accordingly if it warrants the preservation of the nation.”
As the ministry of defense waits for a formal executive order allowing them to take on a law enforcement role, it would seem Duterte may have found a way to skirt his country’s constitution, which stipulates that a president may only declare martial law for a period of sixty days. By not making any such declaration but ordering the military to aid in his efforts to remove corrupt police officers from power, he gains the ability to utilize the army in a civilian setting without being restricted by the language of the constitution.
Image courtesy of MNS/Balita