Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suspended his controversial war on drugs this week, ending a bloody campaign that claimed thousands of lives and brought international condemnation.
“This is better for the bleeding hearts and the media,” Duterte said in a speech Thursday. “I hope I will satisfy you.”
Duterte ordered the country’s police to disband anti-drug units and cease Operation Double Barrel, a campaign that targeted high-level dealers and street pushers. The crackdown resulted in almost 3,900 deaths, according to official police figures.
However, rights groups and critics claim that thousands more have been killed in vigilante campaigns and extra-judicial killings.
The moves comes amid a public outcry over the brutal police killings of three teenagers. This was “definitely a response to perceived public anger,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, author of The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy.
It comes also a few weeks before the Philippines will face international scrutiny as the Southeast Asian country hosts the regional ASEAN economic summit Nov. 10-11. It will be attended by President Trump and other world leaders.
In a phone call in April with Duterte, Trump praised the Philippine leader for “doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
In his address Thursday, which was filled with expletives, Duterte threatened to expel European ambassadors who have been critical of his drugs war tactics.
“You think we are a bunch of morons here,” Duterte said. “Now the ambassadors of those countries listening now, tell me, because we can have the diplomatic channel cut tomorrow. You leave my country in 24 hours, all of you.”
A delegation of European lawmakers held a press conference in Manila on Monday to condemn the drug killings. Duterte appeared to interpret that as a threat from the European Union to have the Philippines removed from the United Nations.
But the EU said the lawmakers were not acting as part of an official EU mission. On Sept. 29, a separate joint statement issued by 39 United Nations countries called for an end to the drug killings.
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Duterte took office in June 2016 after campaigning on a law-and-order platform. He promised to kill 100,000 criminals within the first six months of his administration.
The drug war has been generally popular in the Philippines, but the killings of three teenage boys by police in separate incidents in August and September highlighted widespread abuses and brought thousands to the streets in rarely seen protests.
This is the second time Duterte has suspended his drug campaign. In January, he paused operations following revelations that a South Korean businessman had been brutally killed by anti-drug police. However, some observers believe that public backlash against the drug war has finally forced Duterte to call it off for good.
“What’s different this time is that Duterte’s decision appears to be a response to growing domestic outrage over the deliberate targeting of children by police on anti-drug operations,” said Phelim Kine, Asian division deputy director or Human Rights Watch.
Polls about Duterte’s popularity have been contradictory.
Duterte issued the order to halt Operation Double Barrel days after a survey by local pollster Social Weather Stations showed his public satisfaction rating plunging to 48% in September from 66% in June. A separate poll released Friday by Pulse Research Asia found his approval and trust ratings both at 80%, near his highest ever rating of 84%.