Philippines: Duterte forms new committee for drug war, targets 'high-value' suspects

The committee encompasses bodies from police, military and coastguard to health, education and social welfare.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte forms inter-agency committee for drug war Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has issued an executive order to create an inter-agency committee and task force to mobilise 21 state agencies behind his bloody war on drugs, prioritising "high-value" targets and going after all levels of the illicit trade. Police Senior Supt. Graciano Mijares said that some 500 police will be selected for the new group and it will target the drug financiers, manufacturers, distributors and protectors, including elected officials.

The executive Order 15 signed on Monday designates the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs or ICAD. The committee encompasses bodies from police, military and coastguard to health, education and social welfare. However, it is still not clear exactly how the new body would be comprised, beyond military and law enforcement officers.

Duterte's order published on Friday outlines a "priority thrust" of the government to suppress drugs and "put behind bars" makers, dealers and traffickers of narcotics while "transforming users into productive members of society".

According to the order, at least 21 state agencies will be split into four groups to enforce anti-drugs laws, prosecute offenders, run campaigns and rehabilitate users who surrender voluntarily.

Duterte signed the executive order on the same day when the PNP resumed operations following a suspension of the entire force from the drugs war, due to the kidnap and murder of a South Korean by rogue anti-drugs officers.

On Monday, Ronald dela Rosa, PNP chief called for the revived police operations to be "less bloody, if not bloodless".

Although, the creation of the inter-agency authority calls for a broader, integrated approach to fighting drugs, but its goals are not entirely new. In October, police launched a second phase of drug war prioritising high-value targets, but critics pointed to little change on the ground.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in the nationwide anti-drugs crackdown since Duterte took over office seven months ago. According to police, some 2,555 were killed during raids and sting operations. Moreover, almost 48,000 drug suspects were arrested.

The human rights groups believe that many of the of these killings were extra-judicial executions committed in cooperation with the police. However, the Duterte administration has vehemently denied those allegations.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) insists that it had no involvement in the rest of the killings and deny activists' allegations that many of the deaths, most unsolved and in mysterious circumstances, were assassinations of drug suspects with police complicity.

The United Nations and a number of other western countries are alarmed by the death toll and Duterte's repeated threats to kill thousands of dealers. The 71-year-old president's continuous refusal to acknowledge the human rights abuses have also raised concern.

Meanwhile, Duterte has been accused of failing to identify the sources of the drugs or the money trail. According to the rights groups, his crackdown is driven largely by fear and overwhelmingly targets small-time users in impoverished communities. The government's anti-money laundering council is tasked with stopping the flow of money from drug transactions.