A Foreign Businessman's Murder Pauses Philippine Drug War, But For How Long? : Parallels President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has led to 7,500 deaths. But after a Korean businessman was killed, Duterte ordered the national police to stand down from their leading role in the drug war.
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A Foreign Businessman's Murder Pauses Philippine Drug War, But For How Long?

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A Foreign Businessman's Murder Pauses Philippine Drug War, But For How Long?

A Foreign Businessman's Murder Pauses Philippine Drug War, But For How Long?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war on drugs is on pause. More than 7,000 people have been killed in a so-called vigilante killings since last June when Duterte took office, more than 2,000 of them in encounters with police. Now, after a major scandal, the killings have slowed, as Michael Sullivan reports from Manila.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Here's President Duterte back in July just a few days after taking office giving the Philippine National Police the green light to hit the gas in his war on drugs.

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PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: Do not [expletive] me, but do your duty. And if in the process you kill 1,000 persons, I will protect you.

SULLIVAN: And they did. And he did right up until January's sensational news about the kidnap and murder of a South Korean businessman by members of a police anti-drug unit, strangled to death at police headquarters in Manila. A furious Duterte quickly dropped the police from his anti-drug effort, the force, he fumed, corrupt to the core.

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DUTERTE: (Speaking Filipino).

SULLIVAN: In a live television address, Duterte unleashed a foul mouthed tirade at several hundred cops standing sheepishly before him, ordering the lot of them transferred to the island of Basilan, home to the al-Qaida-linked terror group Abu Sayyaf.

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DUTERTE: (Speaking Filipino).

SULLIVAN: "You will stay there two years," he said. "If you live, you can come home. If you die, your body will stay there." Duterte said he planned to cleanse the entire force before allowing it to return to the war on drugs. But this week, he reversed himself and said at least some police could return soon. I need more men, he said, though it's unclear when.

CHITO GASCON: We hope and pray that the authorities will clean up their act.

SULLIVAN: Chito Gascon heads the Philippines' Commission on Human Rights.

GASCON: But I won't hold my breath after what I have seen the last seven months.

SULLIVAN: In those seven months, he says, there have been more than 2,000 alleged drug suspects killed in encounters with police, all of whom claimed the suspects fired first, making the killings justified. But...

GASCON: The self-defense argument must be brought to court. It is for the court to determine.

SULLIVAN: And Gascon says that hasn't happened.

GASCON: Of the 2,000 cases, not been one single police officer has yet been brought to court. That's the problem. So it's not enough that they do something about the case of the Korean national. It's just as important that we begin the process of holding police officers to account.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Filipino).

SULLIVAN: And support for Duterte remains strong despite the scandal in the slum area of Arellano in Manila where neighborhood children play in the street early into the evening. Residents say there's far less crime now than before the war on drugs began.

Cindy Medrano, who helps run her family food stall here, says she's a fan of the war on drugs but not the killings. And she complains it's the poor who've been targeted, not the drug kingpins or corrupt cops. She's happy the killings have slowed for now, but...

CINDY MEDRANO: It's temporary, pero after that, (speaking Filipino).

SULLIVAN: "I think it's just temporary," she says. "It'll start again because President Duterte," she says, "is the kind of person who finishes what he starts." Lilibeth Diego, a former meth addict who lives down the street, agrees.

LILIBETH DIEGO: (Speaking Filipino).

SULLIVAN: "Even if I want to use again," she says, "you can't buy here anymore. Nobody's selling." And the cops, she says, are still around, but in civilian clothes, just watching and waiting. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila.

(SOUNDBITE OF DECEPTIKON SONG, "WAY OF THE SAMURAI")

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