Irked by criticism of campaign against illegal drugs, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
ordered the police be removed as the lead agency in the anti-narcotics war. On Oct. 12, the president ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take over all anti-illegal drug related operations. The order bars the National Bureau of Investigation, the military, and the customs bureau from undertaking any drug-related operation. He ordered the police, which has been linked to the spate of drug-related killings, to maintain visibility but leave the conduct of operations to the drug enforcement agency. In angry language, Duterte made it clear the transfer was a response to the noise raised by critics
, including Catholic bishops
who announced to hold a gathering against killings on Nov. 5. Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops' conference, said an image of the "Our Lady of Fatima" will be brought to the nearby "People Power" monument during the gathering. The same image was brought by protesters during the historic 1986 "People Power" that ousted former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. "Let us see what happens," said Duterte upon announcing his change of tack in the anti-narcotics war. "When something not to your liking is happening, do not look at me. Praise the bleeding hearts and all," he added. Duterte's move has left church leaders and activists unimpressed. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan noted that 13 people were shot dead in the national capital Manila hours after the president issued the order. The head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, former police general Aaron Aquino, expressed doubt that his agency will be able to meet the challenge. Aquino said the drug enforcement agency has only a staff of 2,000 people, with only 1,100 agents compared to the 175,000 strong national police force.