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Philippines drugs war to target 'big fish', police units disbanded

Philippines drugs war to target 'big fish', police units disbanded
From Reuters - October 12, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Dutertes ferocious war on drugs will shift to a higher gear to target big fish, officials said on Thursday, moving away from street level operations to go after big networks and suppliers.

Duterte issued a directive on Tuesday ordering the police to halt activities in the anti-drug campaign and leave all operations to the drug enforcement agency, amid unprecedented scrutiny of police conduct.

The national police chief disbanded all 18 regional anti-drugs units on Thursday and said the resources would be channeled into fighting other crimes.

We now target higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.

Abella said the street level distribution networks of the drug lords had been degraded due to successful police operations in the 15-month old campaign.

The message will sound familiar, with similar announcements made a year ago, when the authorities launched Project Double Barrel Alpha to focus on tracking down drug producers and suppliers.

Critics say that never happened and the crackdown has been fixed on peddlers and users in urban poor neighborhoods, which have borne the brunt of the 3,900 killings by police during anti-drugs operations.

Police say armed suspects resisted arrest in every one of those cases and deny allegations victims were executed. Police say some 2,300 killings by unknown gunmen have also occurred, likely drug-related.

Duterte has lashed out several times when responding to comments from experts, calling some idiots for contradicting his views, or for advocating strategies to target the source of the drugs, rather than consumers.

The change in tack comes at a difficult time for Duterte, who though still hugely popular, saw a sharp decline in ratings according to an opinion poll released on Sunday.

It also followed an anti-Duterte protest last month by thousands of people in Manila, and a series of surveys that point to doubts among many Filipinos about the validity of police accounts, and whether those killed were all drug dealers.

Dutertes move follows the high-profile August killing of a 17-year-old student by police, which triggered rare public outrage.

SMALLER FORCE

The new order that sidelines the police and leaves the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) the sole agency for the drugs war could impact the intensity of the crackdown.

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