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Police shift strategy in campaign vs drugs

Signaling a shift in strategy in its blood-soaked war against drugs, the Philippine National Police aims to reduce the killing of suspects and put more resources into arresting prominent people tied to the trade, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

“Project Double Barrel Alpha” will put a stronger focus on arresting politicians, military, police, government officials, and celebrities allegedly involved in narcotics, the sources said.

The new approach will be outlined on Tuesday in a meeting of police chiefs from each of the Philippines’ 18 regions in Camp Crame, Quezon City, Philippine National Police spokesman Dionardo Carlos confirmed to Reuters.

The operation will be launched within days, Carlos said, adding he did not have further details of the new operation.

The meeting comes after what one of the sources familiar with details of the plan described as “intense” discussions among law enforcement officials about the wave of killings of drug suspects.

“We will give emphasis (to) arrests rather than neutralization,” said one of the sources.

Asked why the new approach is being taken now, he said: “It is related to the EJK issue. We are doing our best to address that…It was a collective decision after an intense discussion of the implications of the EJK issue.” He did not elaborate on who was involved in the decision-making.

“Neutralization” is a euphemism for the killings that have characterized the anti-drugs drive. EJK refers to extrajudicial killings.

A recent poll showed public unease over the deadly anti-drug campaign, with 94 percent of the respondents saying it was important for the police to take suspects alive.

Another component of Project Double Barrel Alpha will see police working with community leaders to clear neighborhoods of drugs and set up local rehabilitation programs.

President Duterte had given police six months to suppress drugs and crime, warning the country was on the verge of becoming a “narco state.” He then extended the campaign, called “Project Double Barrel” another six months to make it a year.

In less than four months since taking office, almost 2,300 people have been slain in the crackdown, according to official figures, revised down from earlier estimates of 3,600.

The majority of the deaths – more than 1,600 – were during police operations, drawing sharp criticism from Western governments, the United Nations, human rights groups, and some Catholic priests. (Reuters)