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Duterte: War on drugs 'will be unrelenting'

MANILA, Philippines – Rejecting all criticism against his popular and bloody war on drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, July 24, said that the campaign against illegal drugs in the country under his watch will be “unrelenting.”

“The fight will be unrelenting….The fight will not stop until those who deal with it [drugs] understand that they have to stop because the alternative is either jail or hell,” Duterte said in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa. (WATCH: Live: President Rodrigo Duterte's 2017 State of the Nation Address)

Duterte said he would not allow those involved in illegal drugs to “have the luxury of enjoying the benefits of their greed and madness.”

Solving the drug problem was among Duterte’s key promises during the 2016 elections. He campaigned on a platform of ending criminality in the country, including the illegal drug trade, in 6 months, but he had since extended this self-imposed deadline to the end of his term in 2022.

Upon assuming the presidency on June 30, 2016, Duterte implemented his campaign against illegal drugs nationwide, led by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Citing his experience as Davao mayor for over two decades, Duterte said in his SONA that investor confidence can be bolstered if local and foreign investments are protected.

While both Duterte and the drug war have the support of many Filipinos, it has been the focus of criticism by many sectors, both locally and internationally. Police have been accused of resorting to extrajudicial means in the name of the drug war. (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' 'war on drugs')

It’s a claim police have repeatedly denied but at the same time, has been backed up by various investigations by both media and human rights groups. But Duterte, known for his strong stance against crime and illegal drugs said on Monday: “I do not intend to loosen the leash in the campaign or lose the fight against illegal drugs.” 

The former Davao mayor called on critics to “use [their] influence [and] moral ascendancy” to “educate” Filipinos instead of “condemning the authorities…and blaming [them] for every killing that bloodies this country.”

Thousands of suspected drug personalities have been killed in police operations or suspected vigilante killings. Tens of thousands of drug personalities – alleged pushers and users – have been arrested by police while millions have “surrendered” through Oplan Tokhang. (READ: Impunity: Welcome to the end of the war)

Reiterating his previous pronouncements, Duterte said he was not afraid of “legal condemnation and public persecution” if it meant protecting the next generation of Filipinos from illegal drugs. “I will hound you to the very gates of hell,” he said.

Again addressing critics, the President, reading from a prepared speech, added: “Look beyond your biases, prejudices, your ambition, your political agenda....The search for change will begin and end only when we look into ourselves and find it within.”

The war on drugs has been through many changes in Duterte’s first 12 months. It was first launched by the PNP as “Project Double Barrel.” After a few months, it was modified to “Project Double Barrel Alpha.”

In January 2017, after it was revealed that police kidnapped and killed a Korean businessman inside Camp Crame itself, Duterte ordered the PNP to pull out of the drug war. PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa said they would concentrate on cleansing its own ranks. (READ: Jee Ick Joo: Tangled webs, inconsistent stories)

A month later, the PNP was allowed to return to the war on drugs.

By law, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) takes the lead in all anti-illegal drugs operations. – Rappler.com