Critics slam Philippine drug war leader's promotion

The drug war in the Philippines has claimed thousands of lives and led rights groups to warn President Duterte may be orchestrating crimes against humanity

A Philippine police chief who lost his lead role in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war because his officers murdered a South Korean businessman has won a promotion, a move slammed Wednesday by rights campaigners.

Senior Superintendent Albert Ferro was demoted in January after officers in his anti-narcotics unit kidnapped the businessman in a bid to extort money from his wife, then strangled him to death inside the national police headquarters.

A backlash after the murder forced Duterte to abolish Ferro's unit and briefly suspend all police from the drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives and led rights groups to warn the president may be orchestrating crimes against humanity.

Philippine National Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said Tuesday Ferro had been promoted to head a new anti-drugs unit with a similar mission to the abandoned one.

"He is very competent in his job but he was unlucky because crazy people got into his unit," Dela Rosa said.

"He has learned his lessons well so he deserves another chance."

Ferro had been serving in a less prominent role in a firearms unit as punishment for what Dela Rosa described as his command responsibility for the murder.

Duterte has relied heavily on the police to fulfil his election pledge last year to eradicate drugs in society by killing up to 100,000 people.

Since then, police say they have killed nearly 4,000 "drug personalities", while thousands of others have been killed under unexplained circumstances.

Rights groups allege corrupt police are killing defenceless people, fabricating evidence, paying assassins to murder drug addicts and stealing from those they kill.

Duterte conceded in January that his police force was "corrupt to the core", and suspended them from the counter-narcotics campaign briefly for a second time in October in a bid to quieten mounting opposition to the drug war.

But the president, who has said he would be "happy to slaughter" three million drug addicts, has on both occasions brought the police back to the drug war's frontlines without any major reforms to eradicate corruption.

On Wednesday, prominent human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno said Ferro's appointment highlighted fundamental problems in the police force.

"It just reflects their disdain for accountability. The records show (the police) are not capable of policing themselves," Diokno told AFP.

Opposition senator Francis Pangilinan said the move would embolden officers to commit abuses.

"How can the people trust the (police) campaign against illegal drugs if those people spearheading it are involved in controversy," said Pangilinan.