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EDITORIAL – Reviving the war on drugs

It’s been a while since Filipinos heard drug suspects being threatened with death. On Friday last week, the mayor of Davao City took a page out of his father’s playbook, declaring a “war against drugs.” Sebastian Duterte then warned drug suspects, in Visayan: “If you don’t stop, if you don’t leave, I will kill you.”

Dutifully, Davao City cops went to work. Within two days of the mayor’s declaration of war, five drug suspects were shot dead in separate incidents over a span of 24 hours. As in the brutal crackdown on illegal drugs during the presidency of the mayor’s father Rodrigo Duterte, the fatalities reportedly resisted arrest or nanlaban.

The elder Duterte had campaigned for the presidency partly on a promise to kill, kill, kill and eliminate the illegal drug scourge in six months. At the end of his six years in office, he admitted that the problem persisted and was more complex than he thought. By that time, however, over 6,000 suspects had been killed in the course of operations acknowledged by the Philippine National Police.

Throughout his presidency, Duterte kept reassuring PNP members that he had their back in the bloody crackdown on drugs, that in case of trouble, he would take full responsibility and would be the only one to face punishment. There were persistent but unconfirmed reports that PNP members were promised financial incentives and career advancement to kill drug suspects.

Today, however, there’s a new administration – one that from the outset has said it would pursue a different approach to the drug menace. Instead of a financial bonus or commendation or promotion, at least seven members of the Davao City police have been relieved and are facing investigation for the latest drug killings. PNP officials said that among other things, the seven must explain why they used their guns to kill.

There have been other drug killings under the Marcos administration; law enforcement agencies have said the deaths cannot always be avoided. But the numbers are clearly lower than during the Duterte administration. President Marcos has stressed that his government is pursuing a kinder, gentler approach to the illegal drug problem. Human rights advocates