Duterte’s police have killed thousands in the Philippines. But this police chief told his officers, ‘Don’t kill.’

 In U.S.
Police Chief Byron Allatog insists that he is an ordinary cop. And in another time or another place, that might have been true.   

The 39-year-old runs an ordinary station in an ordinary city set amid the sugar cane fields on the island of Cebu. People here farm and fish. They sing karaoke. Some take a form of methamphetamine known as “shabu.”

But these are not ordinary times. Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, ordinary police in cities such as this have waged a spectacularly brutal and lawless campaign against anyone they suspect of using or selling drugs.

Officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which receives funding and training from the United States, have shot and killed thousands in late-night raids that often look a lot like executions. Thousands more have been murdered by masked assassins, often after being accused of doing drugs.  

Yet of the thousands of Filipinos shot dead in Duterte’s self-proclaimed war, not a single man, woman or child has fallen on Allatog’s watch, according to the local government. 

Police are capitalizing on the chaos of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, turning the anti-drug push into an opportunity to extort cash from distressed families. (Emily Rauhala,Jason Aldag/Alyx Ayn Arumpac for The Washington Post)

His extraordinary strategy: “I just told my officers, ‘Don’t kill.’ ” 

Don’t kill. That ought to go unsaid, but Duterte and his top cop, Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, talk incessantly of slaughter, casting mass killing as necessary, even just. The scope of the violence is such that the International Criminal Court’s lead prosecutor warned that they could be investigated on charges of crimes against humanity. 

If rank-and-file officers oppose what is happening, few say so publicly.

There is a sense that there is nobody left to police the PNP; the lack of accountability irks Allatog. 

A proud graduate of both the Philippine National Police Academy and more recently a course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., he values procedure, order, discipline. The FBI teaches “no shortcuts, due process, rule of law — that’s their standard,” he said. 

Policing, to him, is not politics but principle. “I’m not saying anything against the president. I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

Hands up, don’t shoot

Allatog never planned to be here — not in Bogo City nor in the unenviable role of dissenting voice.

After graduating from the police academy in 2001, Allatog took several postings across the Philippines, working his way up. In 2014, he was named one of the country’s most outstanding officers. 

When he returned from his training in the United States last year, he expected to be put on a specialist team in Manila. Instead, he was sent to Cebu. “I’d never heard of Bogo City,” he said. “I had to look it up.”

By the time he started his assignment, officers across the country had killed thousands, and journalists, human rights groups and foreign governments had gathered extensive evidence of police abuse, from staged crime scenes to off-the-books hits.

Allatog saw that it would be tough to keep his men in line. They knew that the president had promised to pardon officers who shot drug suspects. They also had heard rumors that off-duty officers were making 5,000 to 10,000 pesos, or $100 to $200, for freelance “vigilante style” kills. 

He told his men that they would be doing things differently. If they shot needlessly or for money, he would not protect them. And they should not count on the president either, he warned.

“Those are politicians. They don’t give a s— about you,” he recalls telling them. “You are just a low-level officer. If you go to prison, that doesn’t affect the economy. They will not care.”

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