Despite constitutional limits, Philippine president considering martial law if drug problem turns ‘virulent’.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that the country’s drug problem has become a national security threat, and that he intends to issue an official order directing the military to help in his campaign.
Duterte said on Thursday that he does not intend to declare martial law, but added that his controversial war against illegal drugs will continue.
“I’m taking in the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and raising the issue of drugs as a national security threat so that I will call on all the armed forces to assist,” he said in a speech broadcast online from his hometown of Davao City.
Referring to suspected drug criminals, he said in a mix of Filipino and English: “You bleed for those sons of a b****es. How many? Three thousand? I will kill more if only to get rid of drugs.”
Duterte made the statement after the Philippine defence ministry urged him on Wednesday to call on the military for help in going after drug criminals and corrupt police officers.
The Philippine police, the country’s main law enforcer, earlier said that it would suspend its anti-drug campaign and “cleanse” its ranks, after it was revealed that some of its officers were carrying out kidnap-for-ransom operations using the drug war as a cover.
Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean businessman living in the Philippines, was among those who fell victim to the police syndicate. His murder inside Philippine police headquarters in Manila triggered a congressional investigation causing international embarrassment for Duterte.
On Monday, Duterte lashed out at the police, telling them: “You are corrupt to the core. It is in your system.”
As of January 31, there have been 7,080 people killed during the first seven months of the Duterte presidency, according to the police. Of that number, 2,555 were killed in police operations, while 3,603 others were killed by unknown suspects.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International Philippines reported that police officers were being paid by the government for killing drug suspects.
“This is not a war on drugs, but a war on the poor. Often on the flimsiest of evidence, people accused of using or selling drugs are being killed for cash in an economy of murder,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.
The Amnesty International investigation documented at least 33 cases involving the killings of 59 people.
A previous Al Jazeera investigation also revealed that police officers were involved in attempted killings of unarmed drug suspects who had already surrendered to authorities.
But in his speech on Thursday, Duterte was adamant, saying that even US President Donald Trump supports his policy, repeating the details of his conversation with the American leader in December.
He has previously said that his war on drugs would continue until the end of his term in 2022.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned against the militarisation of Duterte’s drug war.
“Using military personnel for civilian policing anywhere heightens the risk of unnecessary or excessive force and inappropriate military tactics,” Phelim Kine, HRW deputy director, said in a statement to Al Jazeera.
Kine said there is also a “deeply rooted culture of impunity for military abuses” in the Philippines, and that the military’s “long history of masking extrajudicial killings” of suspected communist rebels “has sinister parallels” with police anti-drug operations.