Memorial in Philippines for South Korean whose murder stunted drugs war

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines held a memorial on Monday for a South Korean businessman whose kidnapping and murder by rogue anti-narcotics police prompted a shock suspension of police from President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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Diplomats, government officials and members of the South Korean community were joined by more than 100 uniformed police at the ceremony to mark the death of Jee Ick-joo, which caused the biggest scandal of Duterte’s seven-month-old presidency.

Mourners in black stood before a portrait of Jee placed on a stage covered in white flowers at a Christian service for a man whose death led to a Duterte taking police off the front lines of his anti-drugs campaign, his administration’s signature policy.

Duterte is forging ahead with a crackdown in which 7,600 people have been killed, a third in police operations, police have said. Reported killings have shrank dramatically in the week since the suspension.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency is now in charge and will form a joint task force with the military, which will reinforce drugs operations against armed elements, the agency’s director said on Monday.

South Korea plays an important role in the Philippines as an investor, aid donor, provider of military hardware and source of a quarter of the country’s tourists.

The ceremony was held at the Camp Crame headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) where Jee was killed in October by members of an anti-drugs unit.

He had been arrested for drug offences that his wife and lawyers said was an official cover for kidnap for ransom.

Charlie Shin of the United Korean Community Association of the Philippines delivered a speech at the memorial and later said the authorities had gone to great lengths to show their remorse for Jee’s death.

“We are holding the memorial service inside the camp. They opened it, they don’t hide anything, to show they are sincere to the Korean community so we appreciate it,” he said.

“Hopefully, the Korean community will trust the PNP more than before.”

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Writing by Martin Petty; editing by Robert Birsel