MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine capital's police chief ordered that the entire 1,200-member police force in one of Manila's biggest areas be relieved of duty and retrained on Friday in response to a series of controversies, including the killing of two teenagers.
Metro Manila's top officer Oscar Albayalde said all police personnel in the Caloocan area of the capital would undergo retraining and reorientation before being reassigned to other police units, not necessarily in Manila.
"We will start with the city's police precincts 2 and 7," Albayalde said. All personnel in Caloocan's headquarters and seven precincts would be temporarily replaced by the regional public safety battalion, a combat-trained unit.
"This will be done in batches," he said.
Albayalde did not say how long the retraining would last and how long it would take for the entire police force in Caloocan to be replaced.
It is the first time an entire city police unit has been relieved of its duties since President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed his bloody crackdown against illegal drugs 15 months ago, a campaign that has killed thousands of Filipinos.
The move comes amid intense scrutiny of police activities in Caloocan in the wake of the killing of 17-year old Kian Loyd Delos Santos last month in what police said was an anti-drugs operation.
His lawyers and family say he was murdered in cold blood. Three officers involved in his killing say he fired at them and they acted in self-defense.
Duterte, known for his frequent speeches that call for drug dealers to be killed, ordered a thorough investigation into the Delos Santos killing and warned police he would not tolerate abuses.
Another teenager, Carl Arnaiz, suffered a similar fate, accused of trying to rob a taxi driver and shooting at police who tried to arrest him. The taxi driver told reporters on Sunday he saw him alive in custody.
About two dozen Caloocan residents, holding placards saying "Stop the Killings", held a noisy protest outside the precinct's police headquarters. Dozens of police trainees stood in front and watched the protest.
Friday's order came only a day after Philippine media reported members of the Caloocan precinct 4 raided an elderly woman's home and reportedly stole money in an incident captured on closed circuit television cameras. Reuters could not confirm the report independently.
Activists accuse police of executing suspected users and dealers systematically during anti-drugs operations and say official reports that say victims violently resisted arrest are implausible, and contrary to witness accounts.
Police reject those allegations and Duterte has been furious at critics and political opponents who say he has a "kill policy".
The video of the alleged robbery was uploaded on social media sites and went viral, which angered senior police generals. Albayalde immediately issued the orders to relieve the Caloocan precincts.
"From what we have seen this has been done or will continue to be done by others so it is best to implement this preemptive measure to avoid similar incidents," Albayalde told reporters.
He warned other districts in Manila could face similar sanctions if they did not shape up.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Paul Tait)