THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will now be part of the government’s renewed efforts to suppress illegal drugs in the country.
A memorandum of agreement (MOA) has been signed by the AFP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Tuesday, February 28, detailing the military’s role in the campaign.
The anti-drug unit will be composed of about 500 soldiers.
The military, however, will only be involved when it comes to “high-impact operations and arrest of high-value targets,” according to AFP Public Affairs Office Chief Col. Edgard Arevalo.
“Our forces and assets provided for each operation will not conduct Tokhang,” Arevalo clarified, referring to the PNP’s previous house-to-house anti-drug campaign.
The AFP is also set to expand its Joint Counterintelligence Task Force (JCTF) Noah, which assists law enforcement agencies in identifying, investigating and neutralizing persons involved in the use, sale, manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last July, 7,000 individuals have been reportedly killed by both police and vigilantes. Over 52,000 people have been arrested during the legitimate police operations, according to various reports.
Apart from the AFP, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will also rejoin PDEA in implementing the government’s anti-illegal drug operations.
In a press conference on Tuesday,Duterte disclosed that he has ordered PNP chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa to recruit police officers “who are imbued with the fervor of patriotism” to become members of the new anti-drug task force.
According to Duterte, the members of the new group will be strictly selected with no “history of corruption.”
“I have to do it because I lack men. I am also fighting the NPA (New People’s Army) and I have this problem in Mindanao about terrorism and drugs so I need personnel,” Duterte said. “I need personnel so I have to call back the police again to do the job most of the times, on drugs.”
Duterte maintained that the anti-drug operations would remain “PDEA-supervised, whether done by the military or the police.”
In late January, the president ordered the PNP to pull out from anti-illegal drug operations nationwide to focus on “internal cleansing.”
He made the suspension amid the controversial death of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-Joo, who was abducted from his home in Pampanga, along with his house help, reportedly under the guise of an anti-illegal drug operation last October 18, 2016.
Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), however, warned that the United States could suspend its “military aid and training” to the Philippines if the AFP “were to join the drug war and participate in extrajudicial killings.”
CSIS Senior Adviser and Deputy Director Murray Hiebert pointed out that the Leahy amendment prohibits the U.S. Departments of Defense and State from providing equipment or training to foreign military units that commit “gross human rights violations.”
The U.S. government has repeatedly expressed its concerns over the extrajudicial killings that have allegedly occurred in relation to the Philippine government’s drug war.