Philippine police chief says won’t stop cops from seeking church sanctuary

FILE PHOTO: Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa gestures during a news conference at the PNP headquarters in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Czar Dancel/File Photo

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ top police commander on Tuesday said he would not prevent officers involved in the country’s bloody war on drugs from seeking church protection and testifying to their alleged abuses, providing they told the truth.

Police chief Ronald dela Rosa was reacting to a statement from a senior Catholic prelate expressing “willingness to grant accommodation, shelter, and protection” to police involved in unlawful killings during the 15-month-old crackdown.

More than 3,800 people have been killed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruthless campaign, in what police say are anti-drugs operations during which suspects had violently resisted arrest.

Human rights group believe that figure, provided by the Philippine National Police (PNP), misrepresents the scale of the bloodshed, pointing to large numbers of killings by shadowy gunmen. The PNP denies allegations that assassins are operating in league with some of its officers to kill drug users.

“The pill may be bitter but we can swallow the bitter pill if that pill is true,” dela Rosa told reporters, adding that he had no information that any PNP members had approached the church and wanted to speak out.

“Even if we are at the receiving end, we can take it as long as it is the truth, not just fabricated. The truth is important.”

The PNP and Duterte have been on the defensive in recent weeks as scrutiny intensifies over the conduct of mostly plain-clothes officers during what the PNP calls “buy bust” sting operations.

Duterte has several times stated that he has never told police to kill, unless in self defense. His critics, however, accuse him of inciting murder in his frequent, truculent speeches.

The killings by police of two teenagers during August is the subject of an ongoing Senate inquiry. Opinion polls released in recent days, which were compiled in June, show doubt among Filipinos about police accounts. [nL4N1MD2U8] [nL4N1M82HN]

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), on Monday said some police sought church help and were struggling to come to terms with their actions. He did not identify them, or say how many sought protection.

He said the church would gauge their sincerity and honesty and establish their motives for coming forward. Priests would help “within the bounds of church and civil laws”, but would not influence them to testify.

“Their consciences are troubling them,” Villegas said.

“They have expressed their desire to come out in the open about their participating in extrajudicial killings and summary executions.”

Some Senators applauded the bishops’ move and urged police to testify.

“I welcome the willingness of these involved policemen to finally speak about their actual involvement in the extrajudicial killings,” Grace Poe said in a statement.

“I laud the church in opening its arms wide to provide sanctuary for them.”

Priests are among the most influential dissenters to take on Duterte, having initially been silent when the drugs killings started.

Some churches have given sanctuary to drug users and witnesses of killings, while some priests have denounced the bloodshed during sermons and called for bells to be rang nightly in protest. [nL4N1M32IY]

(Editing by Martin Petty and Michael Perry)

More than a thousand turn Philippine funeral to protest against war on drugs

The flower-decked hearse of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old student who was shot during anti-drug operations, stops in front of a police station during the funeral march in Caloocan, Metro Manila, Philippines August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

By Erik De Castro and Andrew R.C. Marshall

MANILA (Reuters) – More than a thousand people attended a funeral procession on Saturday for a Philippine teenager slain by police last week, turning the march into one of the biggest protests yet against President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

The death of Kian Loyd delos Santos has drawn widespread attention to allegations that police have been systematically executing suspected users and dealers – a charge the authorities deny.

Nuns, priests and hundreds of children, chanting “justice for Kian, justice for all” joined the funeral cortege as it made its way from a church to the cemetery where the 17-year-old was buried.

Delos Santos’ father, Saldy, spoke briefly during a mass to defend his son’s innocence and express anger over the police.

“Don’t they have a heart? I’m not sure they do. There’s a lot of churches, they should go there,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Delos Santos was dragged by plain-clothes policemen to a dark, trash-filled alley in northern Manila, before he was shot in the head and left next to a pigsty, according to witnesses whose accounts appeared to be backed up by CCTV footage.

Police say they acted in self defense after delos Santos opened fire on them.

The parents and lawyers of delos Santos filed a murder complaint against the three anti-narcotics policemen on Friday.

If accepted, the complaint would follow at least two cases filed last year against police over Duterte’s war on drugs, which has killed thousands of Filipinos, outraged human rights groups and alarmed Western governments.

Delos Santos’ flower-draped coffin passed through a major highway on a small truck decorated with tarpaulins reading “Run, Kian, Run” and “Stop the killings” displayed on each side. Passing motorists honked in support.

“This is a sign that the people have had enough and are indignant over the impunity that prevails today,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of left-wing activist group Bayan (Nation), said in a statement. “The people protest the utter lack of accountability in the police force.”

Mourners, some of them wearing white shirts, held flowers and small flags, and placards denouncing the killing.

A member of Rise Up, a Manila-based coalition of church-related groups opposing the drug war, told Reuters that families of about 20 victims joined the procession.

“I came to support the family. I want justice for Kian and all victims – including my son,” said Katherine David, 35, whose 21-year-old son was shot dead by police with two other men in January.

Department of Justice personnel armed with assault rifles were on guard during the procession and outside the church.

Most people in the Philippines support the anti-drug campaign, and Duterte remains a popular leader but questions have begun to be asked since the death of delos Santos, which came during a spike in killings across the Philippines’ main island, Luzon, last week.


The president’s communication office reiterated on Saturday he will not tolerate wrongdoing by law enforcers and called on the public to “trust the justice system under the Duterte presidency.”

But bereaved mother David believes the response to Kian’s killing marks a turning point in opposition to the drug war.

“There’s been a big change. Before, police could kill and nobody paid attention. Now people are starting to show support and sympathy,” she said.


(Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Lincoln Feast)


Furor erupts over killing of teenager as Philippines drugs war escalates

Activists take part in a rally after 91 people were shot dead this week in an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte's ruthless war on drugs in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

By Erik De Castro and Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines police came under pressure on Friday to explain the killing of a high-school student after the 17-year-old became one of at least 80 people shot dead this week in an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruthless war on drugs.

Television channels aired CCTV footage that showed Kian Loyd Delos Santos being carried by two men to the place where his body was later found, raising doubt about an official report that said he was shot because he fired at police officers first.

Witnesses told the ABS-CBN channel that the teenager did not have a firearm and police officers at the scene handed him a gun, asked him to fire the weapon and run.

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa said that if the Grade 11 student did not pose a threat, the officers who shot him on Thursday night would be held accountable.

“Just think about it, he is just a kid. If that happened to your sibling?” he said on GMA TV. “We will investigate it, I assure you.”

Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said the three policemen involved had been relieved of their duties and an investigation would be launched into the incident, which took place in the Caloocan district in the northwest of the capital.

Police killed at least 13 people in Manila on the third night of a new push in Duterte’s war on drugs and crime, taking the toll for one of the bloodiest weeks so far to 80, Reuters witnesses and media reported.

Earlier this week, 67 people were gunned down and more than 200 arrested in Manila and provinces adjoining the Philippines capital, in what police described as a “One-Time, Big-Time” push to curb drugs and street crimes.

The term has been used by police to describe a coordinated drive in crime-prone districts, usually slums or low-income neighborhoods, often with additional officers.

The spike in killings drew condemnation from Vice President Leni Robredo, who belongs to a party opposed to Duterte.

Branding it “something to be outraged about”, she has been a constant critic of the crackdown that has killed thousands of Filipinos and caused international alarm since Duterte took office over a year ago.


Several senators raised concerns on Friday over the rise in the number of deaths, calling for an impartial investigation.

“Killing the poor and powerless is not the solution to the drug problem when tons of methamphetamine are smuggled in,” Senator Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.

An ally of the president, Senator Jose Victor Ejercito, said he was “worried that these intensified killings are being used by some rogue police officers, knowing that the president will protect them”.

Police say there has been no instruction from higher authorities to step up their anti-drug operations and they are only doing their job.

Duterte indicated this week that the escalation had his blessing, saying it was good that 32 criminals had been killed in a province north of Manila and adding: “Let’s kill another 32 every day. Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”

On Thursday, he said he would not just pardon police officers who killed drug offenders during the anti-narcotics campaign, but also promote them.

“I don’t think they are simply acting based on the president’s endorsements,” Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, told reporters. “It just so happens they are taking active steps in addressing the drug situation in Philippines.”

Critics maintain that members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) are executing suspects and say it is likely they have a hand in thousands of unsolved murders of drug users by mysterious vigilantes. The PNP and government reject that.

Although the violence has been criticized by much of the international community, Filipinos largely support the campaign and domestic opposition to it has been muted.

“Again and again we hear people say it is safer … they appreciate the fact that the Philippines is being made safe again,” Abella said.

(Additional reporting by Ronn Bautista and Karen Lema; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Militants in Philippines city dug in for long siege

Soldiers stand guard along the main street of Mapandi village as government troops continue their assault on insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines June 2,

By Neil Jerome Morales and Tom Allard

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – Islamist militants who seized the Philippines town of Marawi two weeks ago have stockpiled weapons and food in mosques, tunnels and basements to prepare for a long siege, officials said on Monday.

Among the several hundred militants linked to the Islamic State group are fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Morocco.

The battle for Marawi City has raised concerns that the ultra-radical jihadist group is building a regional base on the island of Mindanao, at the southern end of the Philippines.

Parrying questions on why the fighters had been able to resist the Philippine army for so long, senior officers said the main problem was that 500-600 civilians were still trapped in the urban heart of the town.

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that Marawi City would be fully liberated within three days, but on Monday officials were more circumspect and gave conflicting estimates of how many combatants were holding out.

Major General Carlito Galvez, head of the military command in Western Mindanao region, said as many as 200 fighters from the Maute militant group and others were still inside the town, and had prepared in advance for a long standoff.

“… the Maute, even if they fight two months, they will not starve here,” he told a news conference about a kilometer from the fighting.

“There are underground tunnels and basements that even a 500-pounder cannot destroy.”

He said that, days before seizing the city of 200,000 people, the militants had placed supplies in mosques and madrasas, or Islamic religious schools. Although the Philippines is largely Christian, Marawi City is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Fighting had erupted on May 23 after a bungled raid aimed at capturing Isnilon Hapilon, whom Islamic State proclaimed as its “emir” of Southeast Asia last year after he pledged allegiance to the group. The U.S. State Department has offered a bounty of up to $5 million for his arrest.

The military said on Monday that Duterte had offered a bounty of 10 million pesos ($200,000) to anyone who “neutralized” Hapilon, and 5 million pesos for each of the two leaders of the Maute group.


Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told a news conference that the militants now held less than 10 percent of the city, but that meeting Duterte’s deadline was not easy.

“Complications have been coming up: the continued use of civilians, potential hostages that may still be in their hands, the use of places of worship … and other factors that complicate the battle because of its urban terrain,” he said.

Reuters correspondents saw military helicopters flying combat sorties over Marawi City and smoke rising from parts of town amid machinegun fire.

A four-hour ceasefire to evacuate residents was marred by gunfire on Sunday, leaving hundreds of civilians stuck in their homes.

Padilla said that 1,467 civilians had been rescued so far, and that the 500-600 still trapped were low on food and water.

“There are places that we use as passageways to enemy territory – when we reach those areas, sometimes we see old people who are weak, cannot move on their own, because of lack of food,” he said.

A presidential spokesman said 120 militants had died in the battle, along with 38 security personnel. The authorities have put the civilian death toll at between 20 and 38.

President Duterte, who launched a ruthless ‘war on drugs’ after coming to power a year ago, has said that the Marawi fighters were financed by drug lords in Mindanao, an island the size of South Korea that has suffered for decades from banditry and insurgencies.

After the Marawi siege began, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao, with support from allies in the Congress. On Monday, six opposition lawmakers challenged the move in a petition to the Supreme Court. ($1 = 49.4050 Philippine pesos)

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema in MANILA; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

U.S., Philippine troops train for typhoon as Duterte puts war games on hold

Filipino soldiers, member of a decontamination unit, check a mock rescuers, as a part of a chemical scenario during the Philippines and United States annual Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercises inside the Fort Magsaysay military headquarters in Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila, Philippines May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Martin Petty

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Philippines (Reuters) – Philippine soldiers crawl through narrow pipes to save civilians and haul casualties by ropes from atop a derelict building, coached by U.S. army teams in a simulation of a rescue after a ferocious typhoon.

Soldiers practice putting on protective overalls and drilling through collapsed rubble, in exercises part and parcel of “Balikatan” (shoulder to shoulder), the conventional warfare exercises that for decades have bolstered a treaty alliance and helped preserve a U.S. strategic foothold in Asia.

But this year’s edition is a shadow of what it was a year ago, involving only half the 11,000 troops, and stripped of all combat-related exercises at the behest of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte makes no secret of his disdain for an alliance with the United States that he sees as an obstacle to his rapprochement with China, and has tamed Balikatan to avoid provoking Beijing, and to hammer home his message that the Philippines is no U.S. lackey.

The 2016 exercises, which Duterte had said would be “the last”, featured live-fire drills, amphibious landings and a combat simulation of the re-taking of a South China Sea island from an unspecified enemy.

What’s left this year is largely Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) training, seen on Friday’s at a military base in Nueva Ecija province, where forces practised for the scenario of a typhoon striking the capital Manila.

“It’s instruction-based, hands-on and practical and they’re doing pretty good,” said Sergeant First-class Jay Bal, a Filipino-American who is among 30 members of the Hawaii National Guard training Philippine army engineers and rescue teams.

The idea of Balikatan was to rehearse a joint defense plan under the old allies’ 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty, one of several agreements Duterte has threatened to abrogate, arguing the U.S. troop presence could make the Philippines a target for Chinese aggression.

Duterte, who holds talks in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, has reversed a Philippine foreign policy that prized close U.S. ties and saw China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea as a threat to its sovereignty.

Duterte has denounced Washington for “hypocrisy” and for treating the Philippines “like a dog”. He has shunned all U.S. activities in the Philippines, but made a point of touring visiting warships from China and Russia in recent weeks.


Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the training exercises were valuable but Duterte wanted no more “war games”.

“We are concentrating on HADR, counter-terrorism, and many things related to that,” he said last week.

“The president doesn’t want to antagonize some people in the neighborhood.”

Like many U.S. officials, Marine Lieutenant-General Lawrence Nicholson, the commander leading Balikatan, insists the alliance remains strong, and the removal of combat training did not devalue the exercises.

“These are skills that are pertinent to any type of military operation,” he said.

Many experts say that geopolitical realities mean ties are unlikely to take a permanent hit from Duterte’s hostility and say the Philippine military’s mistrust of China means it will not risk losing its U.S. support.

Richard Heydarian, an expert on politics and international affairs at Manila’s De La Salle University, said the bare-bones Balikatan indicated a “mitigated downgrade” in the U.S. relationship, but that was easily reversible and contingent on China’s actions and the foreign policy approach of the Trump administration.

“Duterte clearly respects his military, which is clear about its suspicions of China but unclear about America,” he said, referring to the uncertainty about U.S. priorities in the region.

“China is consolidating with its strategic objectives, but I don’t think China will forget those plans just because Duterte talks nice to them.”

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.N. expert keen to probe Philippines killings, but won’t debate Duterte

Agnes Callamard, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, answer questions during a interview by the local media at a compound of University of the Philippines in Quezon city, metro Manila, Phiippines May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA (Reuters) – A United Nations expert who irked the Philippines with a surprise visit said on Saturday she was keen to return and investigate alleged summary killings, but only if President Rodrigo Duterte drops his condition that she must hold a debate with him.

Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has been vocal about allegations of systematic executions in the Philippines as part of Duterte’s war on drugs. Thousands have been killed since he came to power in June last year.

A planned visit by Callamard in December was canceled because she refused to accept Duterte’s conditions.

She turned up in an unofficial capacity on Friday, telling an academic conference on human rights issues that she would not carry out any research this time.

“I am committed to continue my dialogue with the government and I am committed to undertake an official visit, either by myself or with the special rapporteur on the right to health,” Callamard told reporters in Manila.

Duterte has sought a public debate with Callamard before allowing her to conduct an inquiry into allegations of human rights violations against him, and that she be placed under oath before answering questions from the government.

The maverick leader has previously stated his openness toward being probed by the U.N. and western governments, but only if he gets to publicly ask investigators questions, during which he said he would “humiliate” them and create a “spectacle”.

The government insists it must be given the opportunity to question U.N. rapporteurs because the Philippines had already been maligned by allegations of systematic state-sponsored killings of drug dealers and users.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Friday the government would complain to the U.N. after Callamard failed to notify it of her Manila visit.

It turned out, however, that Callamard had actually informed the government in advance of her trip through the Philippine mission in Geneva.

But on Saturday, the government issued a statement, this time saying Callamard “conveniently failed to disclose” that the Philippine mission had asked her to reconsider the trip since Philippine officials would be in Geneva at the same time and were expecting to see her.

“Her delayed reply came on the day she left for the Philippines. This was neither timely nor proper courtesy accorded to a sovereign nation,” the statement said.

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Clelia Oziel)

Philippines’ Duterte will pay price for drugs killings, detained senator says

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima gestures during a news conference at the Senate headquarters in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines September 22, 2016. Picture taken September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA (Reuters) – A senator and detained critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has warned he and his “blind followers” will pay for ignoring alleged extrajudicial killings, and should stop trying to fool the world their crackdown was above board.

Leila de Lima, who last year led a Senate probe into alleged summary killings during Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign, was arrested last week and has been remanded in police detention on drug charges.

“In due time, your president and those who blindly enforce his illegal orders to kill, fabricate evidence and concoct lies will be held accountable,” De Lima said in a handwritten note posted on her official Facebook page on Friday.

The senator was responding to rebuttals by the president’s office and the police of a report by Human Rights Watch, which on Thursday challenged official accounts that thousands of killings during police operations were in self-defense.

The New York-based group said Duterte had turned a blind eye to murders by police in a “campaign of extrajudicial execution”. The president’s spokesman said the allegations, without proof, were “hearsay”.

De Lima, who is charged with facilitating drug trades in jails when she was justice minister, said the denial of state-sponsored killings and demands for proof were insults to people’s intelligence.

“Stop fooling our people and the rest of the world,” said the senator, who last week described Duterte as a “sociopathic serial killer”.

Duterte’s chief lawyer, Salvadore Panelo, said De Lima was deluded and should realize an overwhelming number of Filipinos wanted her behind bars.

“She should instead write to herself and tell herself to stop fooling herself and the people,” he posted on social network Twitter.

“She should accept reality and the truth that she created the rut she is now in.”

About 8,000 people have died since the drugs crackdown was launched in June last year, 2,555 in raids and sting operations where police said they had encountered violent resistance.

Many of the other deaths are under investigation and rights groups believe most were summary executions of drugs users, with police complicity. The authorities reject that view and blame vigilantes or inter-gang rivalry.

Duterte told reporters on Friday that his promises to kill were a warning unheeded by drug pushers, who could stop the bloodshed if they quit selling the methamphetamine “shabu”.

“Is it bad to say I will kill people for my country? It’s a warning actually to stop,” he said.

“If you stop taking shabu tonight, tomorrow I can assure no more killings connected with drugs.”

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Toby Davis)

Out of the shadows: Manila’s meth dealers back on the streets as cops pull back

A man prepares to use "Shabu", or methamphetamine, inside a drug den in Manila, Philippines February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

By Clare Baldwin and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs had until three weeks ago driven the trade in crystal methamphetamine underground, according to residents and drug users in some of the slum areas of the nation’s capital city.

As thousands of users and dealers were shot dead by police and vigilantes in the first seven months after Duterte came to power last June, open dealing in the drug, known here by its street name shabu, largely stopped. Instead, deals were done on the quiet between people who knew each other, maybe with a text message first.

But since Duterte ordered the Philippine National Police(PNP) to stand down from the drugs war last month, after declaring the force “rotten to the core”, the drugs trade has come back out of the shadows, more than half a dozen drug users and dealers in some of Manila’s toughest areas said in interviews. Many spoke on condition that only their first names be used in this story.

Beside one of the less-used railroad tracks in Manila – a grassy area scattered with human excrement only a few miles from the gleaming high-rises of the Makati business district – shabu was easily available last week, costing just a few pesos (cents) per hit. Residents said that when they traveled on the illegal trolleys that ferry people for a few pesos along the track when there are no trains in sight, a fellow passenger will often offer them a sachet of the drug.

Eusebio, 52, who pushes a wood and bamboo trolley on the track for a living, said dealers sometimes walk alongside calling out: “How much are you going to buy?”

“Now that the operations have been suspended, drugs have become rampant again,” he said. “Those who were hiding have resurfaced.”Another trolley-pusher, Boyser, 59, told two Reuters journalists: “If you weren’t reporters, they would offer you drugs.”


In a dark cinderblock room that serves as a drug den in another part of Manila, there were similar stories from users.

“We have more freedom now,” Jason, a 39-year-old bartender told a visiting reporter as he inhaled shabu smoke.  “All the users are still users, except those who have been killed,” he said, adding that he has used shabu for almost two decades.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since Duterte was sworn in almost eight months ago, about 2,500 of whom were killed in official police anti-narcotics operations. Human rights groups believe many of the others were extra-judicial executions committed as part of the war on drugs, and in cooperation with the police – a claim the Duterte administration has vehemently denied.

The president’s office did not respond to a list of emailed questions about the drugs war and whether dealers were now openly back on the streets.

Duterte has repeatedly said he will hunt down drug lords and other “high value” targets and to date, there have been a handful of large-scale seizures and raids on shabu laboratories. But most of those killed in the war on drugs have been small-time dealers and users in some of the country’s poorest neighborhoods.

The PNP stopped publishing an official tally of drug war killings from police operations on Jan. 31 when Duterte ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take over the campaign.


According to reporters and photographers from Reuters and Philippine news organizations working the crime beat on the night shift, “vigilante-style” killings of drug suspects have continued, but at a much slower pace. Police data shows 398 people were killed nationwide in the first 20 days of February. Details of the killings were not provided and it was unclear how many were drug-related.

Some anti-narcotics experts say they will not be surprised if it turns out that the drugs war has been ineffective. They say that ruthless operations against drugs, like Duterte’s, have failed elsewhere in the world.

Colombia’s former president, César Gaviria, said in a New York Times column earlier this month that his country’s long war on drugs not only failed to eradicate drug production, trafficking and consumption but also pushed drugs and crime into neighboring countries, while “tens of thousands of people were slaughtered.”

Thailand launched a “war on drugs” in 2003 that killed about 2,800 people in three months. But figures show it had no lasting impact on meth supply or demand in Thailand. “The world has lost the war on drugs, not only Thailand,” the country’s then Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya told Reuters last July.

When an aggressive anti-drugs campaign begins, supplies may be tight for a while, street prices may spike, but ultimately drug usage does not drop, say those who have studied the results.

“We don’t know of any examples from around the world where very hardline approaches have worked effectively,” said Jeremy Douglas, the regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  “They can temporarily disrupt street business, but they don’t disrupt demand.”


Some police officers told Reuters that they had received reports of increased street-level drug activity since they were ordered to stand down.

Manila Police Commander Olivia Sagaysay, who oversees four precincts in the city, said the war on drugs had lost momentum and morale among her officers had suffered since they were ordered to stand down.

“It’s depressing,” she said. “But who are we not to follow the higher-ups?”

She said she expected the trade to increase but maybe not return to its previous levels because “networks were disrupted” and “pushers were killed.”

In a written response to questions from Reuters about the impact of Duterte’s campaign on the street-level shabu trade, the PDEA said that “based on reports gathered, the supply of illegal drugs in some areas are still considerably abundant.”

The PDEA attributed low street prices for shabu – prices overall have risen only minimally since the war on drugs began and in some areas have fallen – to a “lack of customers” or drug traffickers trying to get rid of their supply “in order to avoid arrest.” It said drugs were being hoarded and that it was difficult for users to transact directly with traffickers. The PDEA did not provide evidence for any of its assessments.

PNP spokesman Dionardo Carlos said drugs would return to the streets because it was “a billion peso business” and “money talks”.

In his view, though, the drug war had not failed. “We hit the target and now it goes back to PDEA.  As far as the PNP is concerned we did our part in the past 7 months. I hope PDEA will be able to do their part.”

The PDEA has just about 1,800 people on its rolls compared with the national police force of 160,000. Of the existing PDEA personnel, only about half are field operatives.

PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon said his agency will add staff and that the president would soon be issuing an executive order to set up an anti-illegal drugs inter-agency council and task force that would also draw from the military, the National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP. The task force will be charged with pursuing the war on drugs.

“There is a temporary vacuum of warm bodies but it won’t be long,” Carreon said, adding that those involved in the drug trade would be wrong to think they were safe.

“If that’s their perception, it won’t last long,” he said. “They will find out in the hardest way that they are terribly wrong.”


Still, Jason, the bartender who is a shabu user, said Duterte’s campaign was not successful because he targeted the wrong people.

If authorities had gone after the “cookers”, the people manufacturing the drugs, instead of users and small dealers, people like him would be unable to buy and would move on. As it is, Jason said, shabu is always in plentiful supply, adding he was addicted and the drug eliminated any fear he may have had of being shot by police or vigilantes.

As he spoke, Jason poured white crystals into a long strip of aluminum foil folded into a trough, tilted it slightly and held a flame below. Almost immediately, it produced a thick white smoke, which he sucked up through a narrow aluminum foil straw.

He then began speaking again, more animatedly. “I buy drugs every day!” he said.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall and Erik De Castro; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Martin Howell)

Gang-ravaged Mexico stuck in marijuana ban as U.S. opens up

FILE PHOTO: Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, California,

By Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican advocates for drug reform are voicing alarm about the country’s widening gap with the United States on marijuana legislation, as criminal violence surges again south of the border.

Tens of thousands have been killed over the years in Mexico, on the front line of a U.S.-led war on drugs. The country’s prohibitionist approach to marijuana is increasingly at odds with the United States, where liberalization is advancing.

California in November became the first state on the U.S.-Mexico border to vote for comprehensive cannabis legalization, further pressuring Mexican legislators to change policy.

Earlier this month Mexico’s Senate duly passed a limited medical marijuana bill. But it has yet to be approved by the lower house and critics say it is still far too little.

“It’s a teeny, tiny reform for an enormous problem in the country,” opposition leftist senator Mario Delgado said during the discussion of the medical marijuana bill.

“It’s absurd that on this side of the border we continue with the violence, the deaths; and on the other side … this same drug is considered legal for recreational use.”

Driven by widespread gang violence, murders are on track to breach the 20,000 mark in 2016 for the first time in four years, adding to more than 100,000 gang-related deaths in the decade since the government began a military-led crackdown on drug cartels.

Many thousands more have disappeared.

Pena Nieto said in 2014 that Mexico could not pursue diverging paths with the United States on marijuana. Earlier this year, he submitted a bill to close the gap on U.S. legislation. But his own lawmakers have been reluctant to follow his lead.

Starting with Washington and Colorado in 2012, U.S. states have begun to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and many more now permit medicinal use, as does Canada.

California, which has an economy roughly twice the size of Mexico’s, was widely seen as a bellwether for a shift in policy.

Mexico’s Supreme Court last year set the ball rolling in a landmark case, granting four people the right to grow and consume weed, and inspiring hope for change.

In April, Pena Nieto proposed decriminalizing possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana for personal use, and said it would allow people jailed for holding up to that amount to go free.

But senators in his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) put the initiative on ice, saying it “requires a greater analysis,” and only backed medical marijuana use.

The PRI blamed heavy losses in state elections in June on Pena Nieto pushing a liberal agenda, notably his bid to legalize gay marriage, said Lisa Sanchez, drug policy director at the organization Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia.

“They immediately transferred that discussion into the drugs issue by saying, ‘If we go too liberal, we might lose more elections,'” Sanchez said.

Opinion polls show that while there is public support for medical marijuana use, Mexicans are still resistant to the idea of an outright liberalization of the drug for recreational ends.

While Congress procrastinates, some people are even taking advantage of the U.S. opening, said Jaime Andres Vinasco, a doctoral student at university Colef in Tijuana, a border city synonymous with Mexican drug traffickers selling to U.S. buyers.

In Tijuana, moneyed consumers enjoy medical marijuana brought over from California dispensaries that is more potent and of higher quality than local weed, said Vinasco, who has spoken to users and dealers for his research on the reverse flow.

“The cannabis from California, for the Tijuanenses, or residents of Tijuana, has become, for the great majority, a luxury item,” he said. “Quite a paradoxical phenomenon.”

(Reporting by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein; Editing by Dave Graham and David Gregorio)

Bullets trump rehab as Asia quickens failing war on drugs

Men inject heroin into their arms along a street in Man Sam, northern Shan state, Myanmar

By Andrew R.C. Marshall and Antoni Slodkowski

BANGKOK/YANGON (Reuters) – The Philippines has launched a bloody “war on drugs” that has killed at least 2,400 people in just two months, while neighboring Indonesia has declared a “narcotics emergency” and resumed executing drug convicts after a long hiatus.

In Thailand and Myanmar, petty drug users are being sentenced to long jail terms in prisons already bursting at the seams.

The soaring popularity of methamphetamine – a cheap and highly addictive drug also known as meth – is driving countries across Asia to adopt hardline anti-narcotics policies. Experts say they are likely to only make things worse.

Geoff Monaghan has seen it all before. He investigated narco-trafficking gangs during his 30-year career as a detective with London’s Metropolitan Police, then witnessed the impact of draconian anti-drug policies as an HIV/AIDS expert in Russia.

“We have plenty of data but often we forget the history,” said Monaghan. “That’s the problem.”

He believes President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign in the Philippines will fuel more violence and entrench rather than uproot trafficking networks. “I’m very fearful about the situation,” he said.

Reflecting the regional explosion in use, the amount of meth seized in East and Southeast Asia almost quadrupled from about 11 tons in 2009 to 42 tons in 2013, said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The only region seizing more meth was North America, where the booming trade inspired the popular television series “Breaking Bad”.

Meth was the “primary drug of concern” in nine Asian countries, the UNODC said, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.


A rising chorus of experts blame this surge in production and use of meth in Asia on ineffective and even counterproductive government responses.

They say national drug-control policies are skewed toward harsh measures that criminalize users but have failed to staunch the deluge of drugs or catch the kingpins behind it.

They also want a greater emphasis on reducing demand through more and better quality drug rehabilitation.

“There is so much scaremongering and hysteria surrounding the issue of drugs,” says Gloria Lai of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a global network of 154 non-governmental groups. “That’s a disincentive for challenging old ways of thinking.”

Meth is a transnational business, worth around $15 billion in mainland Southeast Asia alone in 2013, the UNODC says.

Much of the production takes place in laboratories in lawless western Myanmar. Ingredients such as pseudoephedrine and caffeine are smuggled across porous borders from India, China and Vietnam.

Laos and Thailand are major trafficking routes, with the finished product traveling by road or along the Mekong River for distribution throughout Southeast Asia and China.

Meth is sold in cheap pills called “ya ba”, a Thai name meaning “crazy medicine”, or in a more potent, crystalline form known as “crystal meth”, “ice” or “shabu”.

Contraband is effectively hidden amid rising volumes of regional trade, leaving law enforcement to play catch-up, said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC’s Asia Pacific chief.

“We need to start thinking about big-time regional engagement, up to the highest level. It’s impossible to deal with the problem on a country-by-country basis,” he said.

“I can’t recall the last time a major trafficking kingpin was caught.”


The meth explosion carries huge social consequences: overburdened health services, overcrowded prisons, families and communities torn apart.

Small-time users and dealers bear the brunt of unsparing law enforcement that is popular in crime-weary communities. In mid-July, as drug war killings escalated in the Philippines, one survey put President Duterte’s approval rating at 91 percent.

Thailand launched an equally popular “war on drugs” in 2003 that rights activists said killed about 2,800 people in three months, a death toll later halved by a government-appointed inquiry. Figures show it had no lasting impact on meth supply or demand in Thailand.

“The world has lost the war on drugs, not only Thailand,” the country’s justice minister Paiboon Koomchaya told Reuters in July.

Paiboon hinted at a radical shift in policy, saying he wanted to reclassify meth to reduce sentences for possessing and dealing the drug.

For now though, Thailand continues to jail thousands of petty drug users, with about 70 percent of its 300,000 or so prisoners jailed on drugs offences, according to government data.


Meth addiction is tough to treat, ideally requiring costly and time-consuming counseling. Long-term use can cause changes in brain structure and function.

In March, U.S. President Barack Obama said drug dependency should be seen as “a public health problem and not a criminal problem”, part of a bid to roll back a “war on drugs” begun in the 1970s and now widely seen as a failure.

Policy in Asia is largely moving in the opposite direction, with drug rehabilitation underfunded and inadequate.

Less than 1 percent of dependent drug users in Indonesia got treatment in 2014, said the UNODC. Lacking alternatives, desperate Indonesians resort to herbal baths, Islamic prayer and other remedies of unproven efficacy.

“Rehab” in many countries often means detention at a state facility. In Thailand, thousands of users are held at army camps for four months. Relapse rates at drug detention centers range from 60-90 percent, says the World Health Organisation.

“Often, the government response causes more harm to an individual than the drug itself,” said the IDPC’s Lai.

Evidence shows that the most effective treatment is voluntary and community-based. A 2015 study in Malaysia found that half the people at compulsory centers relapsed within 32 days of release, compared with 429 days for those who had volunteered for treatment.

Tackling demand is complicated by meth’s broad appeal across different ages, professions and social classes.

In Myanmar, manual laborers claim that smoking ya ba boosts their stamina, while students say it boosts their grades.

A Yangon student who asked to be identified by the nickname “Nick” told Reuters at a grim state-run rehab clinic that he smoked ya ba to help him concentrate on his studies.

When asked how many of his fellow students also used it, Nick replied: “Almost all of them.”

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Bangkok, Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta and Wa Lone in Yangon; Editing by Alex Richardson)