Duterte signals shift in war on drugs in curse-laden speech

Philippines president attacks ‘interfering’ western states and dares them to cut ties

 Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte gives his signature fist bump with US actor Steven Seagal, in Manila. Photograph: PPD/AFP/Getty Images

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte gives his signature fist bump with US actor Steven Seagal, in Manila. Photograph: PPD/AFP/Getty Images


Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday he hoped a shift to targeting big networks in his war on drugs would satisfy “bleeding hearts” and interfering western states fixated on the high death toll in his brutal crackdown.

In a televised speech, Mr Duterte read out a memorandum that removes police from the drugs war and places the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge of it, before launching into a curse-laden tirade at foreign critics of a campaign that has killed thousands of Filipinos.

Mr Duterte appeared to target some European parliamentarians among a group called the Progressive Alliance, which on Monday said it was “extremely alarmed” by the drugs war and warned the Philippines risked losing trade privileges because of unchecked abuses by police during Duterte’s signature campaign.

“I am not interested anymore in using any other [agency], just let PDEA,” he said.

“They seem to want it. I want, as a last word, maybe this would suffice for the stupid European Union guys. They were all focused on how many deaths.”

The EU delegation in Manila issued a statement clarifying that it had no involvement in the recent visit to the Philippines by the Progressive Alliance.

It was unclear whether the decision to change tactics in the anti-drugs campaign was influenced by western pressure.

The Duterte administration on Thursday said the shift was to target “big fish”, moving away from street-level operations to go after big networks and suppliers.

Police disbanded all 18 regional anti-drugs units on Thursday. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the new aim was for the PDEA to target “higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government”.

That message will sound familiar, as there were similar announcements a year ago when a new phase of the drugs war was launched to catch producers and suppliers.

Critics say that never happened and small-time dealers and users and the urban poor continued to bear the brunt of the crackdown, which has seen 3,900 killings. Police say armed suspects resisted arrest in every one of those cases and they deny allegations that the victims were executed.

UN membership

In his speech on Thursday, Mr Duterte appeared to suggest European politicians had warned the Philippines could lose its UN membership.

Mr Duterte lashed out at western powers who had colonised countries, started wars, and “stolen” oil from the Middle East, and said they had imported terrorism to their own shores.

He dared them to cut ties with the Philippines and have their ambassadors leave within 24 hours. He said his new alliances with Russia and China – permanent members of the UN Security Council – would keep the Philippines in the United Nations.

“We will be excluded in the UN? You son-of-a-bitch. Go ahead. You are interfering in our affairs because we are poor. You give money and then you start to orchestrate what things should be done,” he said.

“You bulls**t. We are past the colonisation stage. Don’t f**k with us.”

Mr Abella later clarified that Mr Duterte’s “expression of outrage” was a reaction to the Progressive Alliance, which had “falsely portrayed itself as an EU mission” and made irresponsible statements.

The strategic shift in his war on drugs comes at a difficult time for Mr Duterte, who, though still hugely popular, saw a sharp decline in his ratings, according to a poll released on Sunday.