By Tom Allard, Karen Lema / Reuters

MANILA (Reuters) - Colonel Romeo Caramat oversaw the bloodiest day in the blood-soaked war on drugs in the Philippines – 32 people killed in 24 hours in the province north of Manila where he was police chief in 2017.

Now the head of drug enforcement for the Philippine National Police, Caramat said that ultra-violent approach to curbing illicit drugs had not been effective.

“Shock and awe definitely did not work,” he told Reuters in an interview, speaking out for the first time on the issue. “Drug supply is still rampant.”

Caramat said the volume of crime had decreased as a result of the drug war, but users could still buy illegal drugs “any time, anywhere” in the Philippines.

He said he now favored a new strategy. Rather than quickly arresting or killing low-level pushers and couriers, he wants to put them under surveillance in the hope they lead police to “big drug bosses”.

Three and a half years after President Rodrigo Duterte launched a war on drugs in the Philippines with a call to kill addicts and traffickers, his signature policy has failed in many key objectives, according to police officers, health professionals and government officials.

Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, did not respond to requests for comment on Caramat’s statements. But in a statement on Jan. 6 responding to a request from Reuters for comment on the anti-drug campaign, Panelo said “we are winning the war on drugs”.

Duterte, however, has repeatedly said in recent speeches and interviews that the anti-drugs campaign has fallen short, blaming endemic corruption for undermining enforcement and the absence of a death penalty for failing to deter crime.

Critics say that problems with the drug war run deeper, pointing to a failure to target high-level drug traffickers, cut the supply of drugs and invest in rehabilitation.

“Heavy suppression efforts marked by extra-judicial killings and street arrests were not going to slow down demand,” said Jeremy Douglas, the Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Bangkok.

“There has to be a focus on prevention and public health, coupled with intelligent policing that takes on transnational crime.”