‘Shock and awe definitely didn’t work’: Top drug cop has change of heart about Duterte’s drug war

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Well, wouldn’t you know it — as it turns out, Vice President Leni Robredo just might have been right about the drug war.

And that’s not just our opinion. That’s the point of view of none other than Philippine National Police Drug Enforcement Group Chief Col. Romeo Caramat, who told Reuters in an exclusive interview that a violent approach to curbing illegal drugs in the country has been, to put it mildly, ineffective. 

In an article published on the wire service today, the drug agency chief said that after three-and-a-half years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war, drug supply remains steady. Caramat said that while the volume of crimes has decreased as a result of the drug war, users can still buy illegal drugs “any time, anywhere” in the country.

The drug chief, who’s had a change of heart, maintains that “shock and awe” tactics “definitely don’t work.”

At one point during Caramat’s tenure as Bulacan police chief in 2017, he saw 32 people killed in 24 hours. The staggering one-day death tally in August 2017 prompted Duterte to publicly say, “Let’s kill another 32 every day. Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”

Caramat estimates “hundreds” of drug suspects died in Bulacan when he was police chief, while the Philippine government says over 5,000 people have been killed in anti-drug operations nationwide since mid-2016 — most of them, allegedly trying to resist arrest. Various rights group, however, have said that the actual count is much higher, and that the excuse about victims resisting is dubious at best.

In the interview, the drug chief surprisingly split from from the official government narrative, telling Reuters that instead of focusing on the arrests and killings of low-level pushers and couriers, he now wants to keep them under close watch in hopes of being led to “big drug bosses”.

Read: Three years after Duterte launched drug war, only 1 percent of meth seized, Robredo says

Caramat’s critiques of the drug war and desire for a change in strategy sounded suspiciously like the things that got Duterte foe Vice President Robredo unceremoniously booted from her role as drug czar after less than three weeks in the job following efforts to initiate reforms.

Last month, the vice president renewed her criticism of Duterte’s drug war, again calling it a failure, and saying it had taken only a tiny fraction of the total amount of drugs in the country off of the streets.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who refused to comment about Caramat’s statements to Reuters, had told the wire service in a separate statement last month that the Duterte government was “winning the war on drugs.”

Last month, Panelo also defended Duterte’s drug campaign by appearing to paint the thousands of deaths associated with the drug war as a positive outcome, and suggesting that the campaign must have been a success, otherwise everyone would be a drug addict.

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