Philippine police chief offers to quit over drug-linked cops

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Philippine Police Chief, Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., gestures during a news conference at Camp Crame police headquarters, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Metro Manila, Philippines. The Philippine national police chief said Thursday he has offered to resign to encourage nearly a thousand other top police officials to do the same to regain public trust after some enforcers were arrested due to illegal drugs and further tainted the police force's notorious image. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA – The Philippine national police chief said Thursday he has tendered his resignation to encourage nearly a thousand other ranking police officials to do the same to regain public trust after some enforcers were arrested due to illegal drugs, further tainting the police force’s notorious image.

Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. on Wednesday appealed to all police generals and colonels to submit their “courtesy resignations” in a drastic move to improve the police force’s image after law enforcers in the frontlines of the drug crackdown were caught engaging in drug dealing.

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Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. told a televised news conference that those who would submit their “courtesy resignations” — offers to voluntarily resign from the force — would stay in their jobs unless President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. decides to accept their resignation after an investigation. Azurin dispelled fears of a massive loss of leaders that could paralyze the 227,000-member force.

He also defended the police top brass, saying less than 10 of more than 100 generals were currently being investigated for alleged links to illegal drugs. He said some fellow officials opposed the move and lamented that just a few misfits were ruining the image and careers of a majority of decent officers, including hundreds of full colonels.

“Our organization is on trial here,” Azurin told a nationally televised news conference.

The call by Abalos for top police resignations sparked questions and concerns because, for years, an internal police disciplinary office along with a police commission has been investigating and helping prosecute officers accused of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, as well as those accused of crimes and corruption under the government’s anti-drug campaign.

Others said the move could demoralize police officials who carry out their work properly.

“While this process may be outside the disciplinary machinery of the Philippine National Police, this will be undertaken due to the exigency of the situation,” Azurin said.

He asked a five-member committee, which would be formed to assess possible links of police generals and colonels to the illegal drugs trade, to be fair and objective.

The national police force’s image took a blow in October, when a police sergeant was arrested for drug pushing and for helping conceal nearly a ton of methamphetamines, a powerful and prohibited stimulant in Manila. A regional chief of the country’s main antinarcotics agency and his men were implicated in a brazen drug dealing that happened in his office in December.

The alarming arrests bolstered concerns over a police force that former President Rodrigo Duterte used to enforce his brutal anti-drugs crackdown, which left more than 6,200 mostly poor suspects dead based on police estimates and sparked an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity.

Duterte himself had once described the police force as “rotten to the core” but still proceeded to harness law enforcers nationwide to carry out his extra tough anti-drug campaign. In 2017, he ordered the police to stop all anti-drug operations amid mounting criticisms after rogue anti-narcotics officers were accused of strangling to death a South Korean businessman in the main police camp in the capital region. He later allowed the police to resume anti-drug raids.

Human Rights Watch said the call for top police resignations could work against the government’s anti-drug campaign.

“It is a cynical ploy that allows abusers to evade accountability, especially because Abalos invoked the defects of the criminal justice and judicial systems to try to justify his idea,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.

Marcos Jr. had said he would continue his predecessor’s anti-drug campaign but would do it differently, including by focusing on the rehabilitation of drug users and avoiding the use of excessive force.

In an interview with The Associated Press in New York in September, Marcos redirected his criticism to law enforcers when asked if Duterte went too far with his lethal drug crackdown.

“His people went too far sometimes,” Marcos had told the AP. “We have seen many cases where policemen, other operatives, some were just shady characters that we didn’t quite know where they came from and who they were working for. But now we’ve gone after them.”

Marcos has not taken aggressive actions to prosecute his predecessors over the massive drug killings. He teamed up with Duterte’s popular daughter, now Vice President Sara Duterte, in an alliance that has been credited for helping him win the presidency in the 2022 elections.

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