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Investigating the Philippines’ deadly drug war could be a political move by Duterte: Experts

MANILA: Experts on Tuesday questioned the Philippine government‘s decision to investigate the role of 154 police officers in President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial drug war after an initial review found they could be held criminally liable for their conduct in 52 fatal raids.

The move is considered a rare admission of the state of abuse that took place under Duterte’s supervision. He said Monday he would “prepare his defense” for the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the drug war when he returns to Davao City at the end of his six-year term.

However, experts like Rikard Jalkebro, associate professor at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, said that while the Justice Department’s move appears to send a message to the international community, especially the ICC, it also appears to be part of Duterte’s political campaign for the upcoming 2022 elections could.

“It sends a message to the international community and also to the ICC that the Philippines are now taking it seriously,” Jalkebro, who is also an expert on the Philippines, told Arab News.

The 76-year-old president has been heavily criticized by the international community for his drug war. According to official figures, more than 6,000 people have been killed in “legitimate drug actions” since Duterte took office in 2016.

However, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 2020 figures show that at least 8,663 people were killed in the Duterte government’s war on drugs, while human rights groups say the number is three times higher.

“By helping the internal investigation of the Philippine National Police and the Drug Enforcement Agency, they are conducting a review and trying to find out where things went wrong and if they went wrong,” Jalkebro said.

He stated that if internal reviews and reports show that nothing extraordinary has happened, and it was a case of rogue officials taking the law into their own hands, “then at least they can say, ‘OK, we did a review , and we found no reason for these statements. ‘”

“At the same time, they can reject all claims made by the ICC,” said Jalkebro, adding that it could also be Duterte’s move to “anticipate something, but also just to ensure that (after his tenure) he has no immunity.”

On Saturday, Duterte said he would no longer run for vice president in next year’s national elections and would retire from politics at the end of his term in office.

“Now that he has officially withdrawn from the election, he could expand his popular support again, and maybe they can influence the opinion polls … because he is still president and will be responsible for everything. In this sense, it could also be a political game, ”said Jalkebro.

“Then it would be a very good point (for her to say) that he’s back by popular demand; he cannot retire because he has to do this for the Filipino people. “

Filipino Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra told reporters on Monday that the drug war investigation would not end with the 154 police officers responsible for the deaths of 52 drug suspects.

“Quite a significant move by the DoJ, considering the government has not recognized anything,” Jalkebro said.

“They are obviously aware that the police did not act themselves and that they were asked to do so. I think it’s about shaking up the higher-ranking people involved – the police chiefs and the Duterte administration in general. Because everyone in the administration has blood on their hands in one way or another. It’s not just Duterte. “

Dindo Manhit from the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies agrees.

“This investigation into the 154 police officers is a good one,” he said. “Although the question is why now? Is that a sign that the DOJ leadership would like to project a more independent position and anticipate the move of the ICC? “

Duterte said in a taped message broadcast Monday night that he would return to Davao after his term ends to prepare for the ICC investigation.

“You want me to go home to Davao. I will wait for those who will continue to speak about the case. I will prepare for my defense before the ICC, ”said Duterte as he reiterated that the ICC is not responsible for the Philippines.

He also reiterated his pledge to support the police officers who are being tried in court for “doing their job and running the government’s campaign against illegal drugs”.

“There are many police officers and even officials who are afraid of what will happen to me. I told them, ‘You are all stubborn. Didn’t I tell you about anything you did in pursuit of the drug war? As long as you obey the law, I’ll protect you. It will be up to me. I’ll be responsible for it. ‘”Said Duterte.

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