MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine police are ready to resume President Rodrigo Duterte's war on the drugs trade which had returned to the streets, the police chief said on Monday, a month after Duterte halted police operations, labeling the force "rotten to the core".
Ronald dela Rosa told reporters the sooner police returned to the fight better, otherwise gains made against drug traders could be lost.
"We are ready to go back to war if given orders by the president," dela Rosa told reporters. "The longer that we are out of the war on drugs, the situation is getting worse, problems will return. So, the sooner we return, the better."
Despite his denunciation of the police, Duterte told reporters he may allow them to resume anti-drug operations, saying there had been a rise of about 20 percent in drug sales on the streets since police were pulled back.
"I will leave it to the Philippine National Police to decide," he said. "What they have to do (is) to succeed."
Dela Rosa said he had spoken with governors, mayors and village officials who, he said, were clamoring for police to return to the anti-drugs campaign because drug peddlers and users were back on the streets.
Duterte ordered the police to stand down from the drugs war last month after declaring the force rotten to the core. Since then, the drugs trade has come back out of the shadows, more than half a dozen drug users and dealers in some of Manila's toughest areas told Reuters.
More than 8,000 people have been killed in the war on drugs since Duterte was sworn in almost eight months ago, about 2,500 of whom were killed in official police anti-narcotics operations.
Human rights groups believe many of the others were extra-judicial executions committed in cooperation with the police – a claim the Duterte administration has vehemently denied.
Reporters and photographers working the crime beat on the night shift said "vigilante-style" killings of drug suspects had continued, but at a much slower pace after the suspension of police operations.
Duterte halted police operations at the end of January and transferred the role to the 1,800-member Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, supported by the army.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie)