MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte publicly linked more than 150 judges, mayors, lawmakers, police and military personnel to illegal drugs today, ordering them to surrender for investigation as he ratcheted up his bloody war against what he calls a "pandemic."
Duterte promptly relieved members of the military and police he named from their current posts and ordered government security personnel to be withdrawn from politicians he identified in a nationally televised speech. He also ordered gun licenses of those named revoked.
"All military and police who are attached to these people, I'm giving you 24 hours to report to your mother unit or I will whack you. I'll dismiss you from the service," Duterte said in the speech at a military camp in southern Davao city.
He said that the list of politicians, judges and law enforcers given to him by the military and police might or might not be true, but he had a duty to disclose to the public how the drugs problem had become so pervasive.
"There is no due process in my mouth," Duterte said. "You can't stop me and I'm not afraid even if you say that I can end up in jail."
The list of names, which Duterte said included some friends, has been validated by authorities but did not contain details of the officials' alleged involvement to the drug trade or offer any evidence. Some names were incomplete while others had no rank or government positions.
They included eight judges, five retired and current generals while the rest were mostly town mayors and police officers. One retired general, Vicente Loot, has been previously named in public by Duterte and has denied any wrongdoing.
"It's a pandemic," said the tough-talking former mayor of Davao, where he built a reputation for his deadly crime-busting style allegedly involving extrajudicial killings.
Duterte's latest salvo ups the ante in his war on drugs, which has already left more than 400 suspected dealers and pushers dead and more than 4,400 arrested in more than a month since he took office. Nearly 600,000 people have surrendered to authorities, hoping to avoid getting killed.
The crackdown has been one of the biggest and bloodiest in the Philippines' recent history and has alarmed human rights groups and the dominant Roman Catholic Church. But Duterte has dismissed their concerns and has openly threatened to kill crime suspects and assured law enforcers he would defend them if they face lawsuits while battling criminality.
"I would like to say now, they will never go to prison, not under my watch," he said.