By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

THE PHILIPPINES Interior Secretary on Wednesday called on hundreds of high-ranking police officers to quit to help cleanse their ranks of the “deep infection” of the illegal drug trade.

“It is coming out that there are generals and colonels involved in illegal drug activities,” Interior and Local Government chief Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr. told a news briefing in Filipino streamed live on Facebook.

“Upon the recommendation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and a few other officers, I am calling on all full colonels up to the rank of police generals to submit their courtesy resignation.”

He said a committee would be formed to review the records of the police officers who will submit their “courtesy resignation letters.” “If you are not involved in illegal drugs, then you have nothing to worry about.”

He said law enforcers seized about P10 billion worth of illegal drugs in 24,000 drug operations last year. About 30,000 drug suspects were also arrested in the first 100 days of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

Police had killed 46 drug suspects during illegal drug operations under the new administration, national police chief Rodolfo S. Azurin, Jr. told a press briefing in November. “The PNP is in full support of this call since we know that all of this is for the betterment of our organization,” national police spokesman Redrico A. Maranan told the same briefing in Filipino.

In a separate statement, the Gabriela Women’s Party called the Interior chief’s call a “half-baked” response to hold these police officers accountable for human rights violations during the drug war.

“If the Marcos Jr. administration really wants to cleanse the PNP of the drug problem, then it must pursue the filing of charges against erring cops instead of pushing for the approval of the free legal assistance bill for uniformed personnel,” it said.

The House of Representatives in December approved on final reading a bill providing free legal aid to law enforcement officials facing service-related cases.

Mr. Abalos’ call was “a bold move,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a policy analyst, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

But the “dramatic flair” might have undermined its intended purpose, which is to cleanse the police ranks, “because doing it in a press conference can make some folks second guess his motive or resolve,” he said. “Some may simply dismiss this challenge as ‘for show.’”

“Secretary Abalos could have demonstrated the strong willingness to bring this plan to its logical conclusion, which is to get rid of the scalawags in uniform, had he issued this challenge without the press and their cameras,” he added.

National Capital Region Police Office Regional Director Jonnel C. Estomo told a separate briefing streamed live on Facebook he agrees with the Interior chief’s proposal.

“I hereby lead the team of NCRPO generals and police colonels to render our courtesy resignation to his excellency President Marcos,” he said.

Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said the Interior chief’s move shows the weakness of the Philippine justice system.

“Why not work closely with the Department of Justice and make sure PNP personnel are trained to gather evidence correctly and follow the rules of engagement in police operations?” she said in a Viber message.

“I hope the Interior and Local Government department is serious in their approach against illegal drugs especially by engaging institutions tasked to implement laws and policies that are meant to curb and not to further the systemic drug trade in the country,” Arjan P. Aguirre, a political science professor at the Ateneo De Manila University, said in a Messenger chat.

“This is a good strategy but this is not something new,” he said. “This has been done in the past and we have seen that these efforts later on did not lead to serious prosecution, clear conviction and incarceration of suspects who happen to be in power or used to be part of the government.”

Mr. Abalos said filing cases in court against ranking officers is a long process that tends to delay accountability.