Duterte: I was wrong to put 6-month deadline on drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — Then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised to eradicate illegal drugs within three to six months after getting elected, but that has changed.

After more than a year in office, Duterte on Thursday said if the U.S. cannot solve its drug problem, how could a "narcotics country" like the Philippines succeed.

"Hindi nga napara ng Amerika ngayon. Ngayon alam ko na nagkamali ako. Nagkamali talaga ako," he said during a speech in his visit to Ozamiz City police station in Misamis Occidental.

[Translation: America cannot stop it. Now I know I was wrong. I was really mistaken.]

The President admitted he underestimated the gravity of the drug problem, as he only benchmarked his approach to that of Davao.

"Tama 'yan silang mga kritiko ko. "Eh sabi mo, nung nag-Presidente ka, three to six months." Hindi ko alam pagpasok ko, eh Davao lang kasi ako. So ang template ko Davao," the former Davao City mayor said.

[Translation: My critics are right. "You said when you were campaigning, three to six months." I did not know this when I stepped in, I used Davao as my template.]

Duterte did not hide his frustration with the involvement of law enforces and officials in the drug trade.

"Ang mga generals na pulis nandiyan. Tapos ang mga Bureau of Customs, 'yung ahensya na inaasahan ko. 'Yung pulis, p**** i** nasa droga. So how can I succeed even if you give me the whole of my term?" he said.

[Translation: The generals, police are there. Then the Bureau of Customs, who I was trusting. The police, s** of a b****, are involved in drugs. So how can I succeed even if you give me the whole of my term?]

He then showed police officers in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental an updated drug list, which he said includes the names of "high-profile" judges, politicians, generals, and police officials. The Customs bureau is facing criticisms for supposedly missing out on a P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China in May.

The President was in Ozamiz a day after some members of the Parojinog family, including the late mayor, were buried. They were killed in a bloody drug search last July 30.

Duterte on August 12 said the country cannot solve the drug problem, citing the difficulty of monitoring a long coastline to prevent the entry of illegal drugs.

When he assumed the presidency in July last year, Duterte promised to end the drug problem in six months or he would resign. He later said the deadline was a "miscalculation" because he did not realize the gravity of the problem. He added drug money is even funding terrorism.

Support and criticism

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also weighed in on the issue.

"As information comes in, he probably has a complete picture of the depth and breadth of this problem. I expect the authorities will continue to eradicate illegal drugs in country using all legal means necessary and I support that," he said in a statement.

Staunch Duterte critic Senator Sonny Trillanes slammed the President for all the "lies" he peddled.

"Duterte lies and deceives just to get his way. He is a monster who craves killings and tries to justify it through lies, deception, and twisted logic.  I fervently pray for the day that Filipinos would finally wake up and realize it," he said.

For his part, Senator Tito Sotto on Friday said a drug-free Philippines is not possible.

"Drug-free Philippines is no longer possible. What we can try to achieve is drug-resistant Philippines," he said.

The Dangerous Drugs Board's (DDB) 2015 Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse said there were 1.8 million drug users in the country.

There are different data on the number of drug users in the country. Duterte cites the four million drug users to justify his anti-drug campaign, while his critics say this figure is bloated.

Continued support for police

Duterte reiterated his support to the military and the police in the war on drugs, using the cases of the late Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. and Albuera Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa as examples.

"Look what happens if drug is allowed to flourish in the place. There is narco-politics. May election ba dito na malinis? [Was there ever a clean election here?]" he said.

Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, Sr. and 15 others were killed in a bloody drug search last July 30.

Within three days, from August 15 to 18, 69 suspects were killed by police during "legitimate" anti-crime and anti-drug "one-time big-time" operations in Bulacan, Manila, and Caloocan City.

Read: 14 suspected drug pushers killed in one-night police anti-crime drive in Manila

Read more: Police: 32 dead, 107 arrested in province-wide drug sweep

VP speaks up

For Vice President Leni Robredo, the recent deaths reveal a culture of impunity.

"Hindi naman tayo ganiyan, eh. Hindi naman tayo ito. Iyong culture of impunity, matagal na nating isinikwal dito sa ating bansa. Sana hindi na natin papayagang makabalik pa," she said in a press conference in Naga City on Thursday.

[Translation: We're not like that. This is not us. The culture of impunity has long been banished from the nation. Let's hope we don't allow it to return again.]

She said the killings may show that some are taking the law into their hands. She added the Constitution guarantees justice for all.

She underscored the importance of making criminals accountable for their actions, but not at the cost of due process.

"Kung mayroong kasalanan, papanagutin, pero kailangan iyong due process, isinasaalang-alang. Kapag mayroong ganitong patayan, gustong sabihin may mga taong nilalagay sa sarili nilang kamay iyong batas. Hindi na hinahayaang gumiling pa iyong mga proseso na nasa Konstitusyon natin para siguruhin na iyong hustisya nabibigay para sa lahat," she said.

[Translation: If they are guilty, make them liable, but there should be due process. If there are these kinds of killings, it says a person puts law into their own hands. They are not allowing the laws under the Constitution to make sure justice is served.]

Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa said the government's fight against dangerous drugs will remain unrelenting despite the criticisms.

"The instruction coming from the President is very clear, that our war on drugs is unrelenting. Tuloy pa rin (It will continue) up to the last drug personality is neutralized," he said on Thursday.

The government reports 3,451 drug suspects were killed in its anti-drug campaign from July 1 to July 26, 2017.

CNN Philippines' Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.