President’s Duterte’s recent instruction for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to assist the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in the implementation of his “War on Drugs” campaign does not violate the constitution or any legal statute in the Philippines. Unlike in the US, the Philippines does not have a Posse Comitatus Act. Although the AFP’s mandate is to protect the nation from external security threats, it may be called on by its chief executive, the President, to help in ensuring the country’s safety against elements or groups that are deemed as a threat to national security.
Previous Philippine presidents have mandated the AFP to run against local groups that are considered threats to national security, such as in the case of the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the communist group New People’s Army. The rationale in mandating the AFP to go against these local groups is due largely to the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) lack of capacity, training, and manpower to tackle these actors. Further strengthening the need to confront these groups with AFP’s force is the fact that Abu Sayyaf and the NPA are considered as terrorist organizations by the US and other foreign governments and bodies.
As an organization directly under the Department of National Defense (DND), which is under the ambit of the Office of the President, the AFP is duty bound to follow the President’s mandate. The DND’s statement asking the Office of the Executive Secretary to issue an official/formal order in paper is basically to formalize President Duterte’s directive. Particularly expected is an Executive Order that will detail the extent of the AFP’s involvement in the “War on Drugs,” which has now been delegated to the PDEA amid accusations that top ranking officials of the PNP are involved in illegal drug trade in the wake of the killing of a South Korean businessman.
While there is no legal issue with the AFP getting involved in the war of drugs, having the AFP go against rogue members of the PNP, who are also armed like their counterparts in the military, is troubling. Another factor to be considered in the issue is the fact that many senior leaders in the PNP come from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), which is the same institution that produces AFP officials. It is inevitable, therefore, for AFP officials to run against “mistahs” or brothers or batch mates from the same class in the PMA. Graduates of the PMA share this strong bond of brotherhood and having two batch mates go against each other could become a “moral dilemma” for those involved. Hence, the DND wants clear instructions from the President to identify scope and limitations of the AFP’s role in the campaign against illegal drugs.
The President’s move to involve the military in his campaign against illegal drugs will make it easier to purge protectors of the illegal drug trade who may be in the top ranks of the PNP. Removing the PNP from the implementation of war on drugs campaign also exposes local government officials to the scrutiny of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Unlike the PNP, the PDEA is not under the ambit of local governments (i.e. mayors and governors), who have been known to exert influence on their respective local police force. PDEA, therefore, is less likely to be swayed by local government leaders in their pursuit of purging drug lords and their protectors.
Whether or not the President’s move to involve the AFP in the war on drugs would improve or exacerbate the situation largely depends on what perspective one chooses to take. It is better for those who want to see the arrest of police and government officials involved in drugs but worse for those concerned in the escalation of extrajudicial killings and violence as this would see two officially armed groups potentially going against each other.
The above is a longer version of an interview conducted by RANE. The truncated version can in RANE’s Advisory entitled “Increased Risk of Violence in the Philippines with AFP’s Involvement in Duterte’s “War on Drugs””.