MANILA: Philippine police allegedly abducting, framing, extorting and murdering people have raised fears of rogue cops going on the rampage under the cover of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drug war, critics and some of his supporters say. Revelations last week – a South Korean businessman was strangled to death inside the national police headquarters after being kidnapped by anti-drugs officers looking to extort money from his wife have led to multiple other scandals being uncovered. They have fuelled concerns that the police force, already widely perceived as one of the nation’s most corrupt institutions, cannot be trusted to prosecute Duterte’s drug war.
“It is hard for the all out war on illegal drugs to succeed because we have a problem with members of the police force taking advantage,” Senator Panfilo Lacson, an ex-national police chief and member of Duterte’s ruling coalition, said this week. “They know the president is mad at drugs, very passionate and ordinary policemen are carried away hearing him say he has signed their pardon and they will believe that.” Duterte has repeatedly promised to shield police from prosecution if they are charged with killing drug suspects as part of the crackdown, known locally as Tokhang.
Police have reported killing more than 2,500 people they have accused of being drug suspects, while nearly 4,000 others have died in unexplained circumstances. Often bodies are left on streets with signs branding them drug addicts or traffickers. The crackdown is fulfilling a campaign pledge that underpinned Duterte’s election win last year-that he would eradicate drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people. As president he has expanded on that vow, saying he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts to save the Philippines from becoming a narco state. His campaign has proved popular for many Filipinos hoping to see a quick solution to the intractable problem of crime.
But an admission by the national police chief last week that a South Korean businessman was murdered by members of his Anti-Illegal Drugs Group confirmed critics’ fears about rogue officers taking advantage of the drug war. The businessman, Jee Ick-joo, was abducted from his home in October last year then brought to the national police headquarters where he was strangled to death in a car close to the police chief’s residence, according to an official investigation. His wife paid the kidnappers a ransom of five million pesos ($100,000), only becoming aware this month that he had been murdered on the day of his abduction.
The killing in the police headquarters, officially named Came Crame, has led critics to dub it “Camp Crime”. Soon after the case was made public, authorities revealed that other policemen robbed and extorted money from three South Korean golfers in December last year. Jee’s killing prompted a Senate inquiry on Thursday where lawmakers spoke of at least 12 similar cases.
Senator Lacson aired CCTV footage at the inquiry of what he said were policemen beating up people in an office in October last year and pointing guns at them before planting bags of crystal methamphetamine in their drawers. Lacson said the operation was a fake drug raid to extort money from the business, which netted the police the equivalent of $180,000. Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said on Friday at least eight policemen suspected to be in the video were relieved of their duties pending a probe. Three more policemen in Manila charged with robbery and extortion were this week merely ordered to be transferred to a new region instead of suspended or sacked.
Even before the recent revelations, one high-profile case was the killing of a town mayor inside his own jail cell. The National Bureau of Investigation found that police shot dead mayor Rolando Espinosa after Duterte named him as being involved in the illegal drug trade. However Duterte said he would not allow the accused police to go to prison. “Because I am the president and the police are under me, I will believe them,” he said in December.
The police leadership has insisted rogue officers have been around long before the drug war began, and that there are only a few of them. But critics think otherwise. “Tokhang for ransom is the direct result of an anti-drug campaign that has shunned human rights and the rule of law and encouraged extrajudicial killings,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said on Friday. “It opened a Pandora’s box of pure evil.” – AFP