Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte views his portrait. (Handout/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock/Handout/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

WITH A summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations coming to Manila in November, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, announced in October that he was pulling the national police back from their murderous crusade against drug users and dealers, a spasm of extrajudicial killing in which an estimated 12,000 people had died. We hoped then that Mr. Duterte was serious about ending the violence by police and vigilante groups.

He wasn't. On Dec. 5, Mr. Duterte ordered the national police back onto the streets, claiming there had been a "clamor from the public" for such action. More likely, Mr. Duterte put the killing on pause to get through the ASEAN summit, and now that the leaders have gone home without much criticism of his drug war, he has decided to resume the campaign. Mr. Duterte made a similar feint in January, stopping the police for a while, then sending them back into the fray. You can fool people once, or twice, but now it appears the Philippine president was serious only about a public relations gimmick.

There was a public clamor in August over the killing of a 17-year-old-boy, who police said was shot in self-defense, but closed-circuit television footage showed how plainclothes officers dragged away the unarmed teenager and killed him in an alleyway. According to Amnesty International, more than a dozen police officers have been investigated for the killing, but no one has been held to account. This is what is missing in the whole sad affair: accountability and rule of law. Many of the shooting deaths since Mr. Duterte took office in 2016 have been at the hands of vigilante triggermen who opened fire from motorbikes, summarily ending lives without cause or trial. Philippine national police records show at least 6,225 drug-related deaths between July 2016 and this September. But it is typical of such shadowy and wanton violence that the recorded numbers are hardly credible; human rights groups say the total deaths from Mr. Duterte's campaign may be at least twice as high.

Mr. Duterte answered his critics, including human rights groups and Catholic bishops and priests, in a speech Dec. 5, declaring, "You can go to hell, all of you!" He added, "I do not want Filipinos to be turned into fools during my time. You can do that at any other time, but not during my time, during my watch."

No. A fool sees himself as above the law. A fool gives the police and vigilantes power to commit violence without due process. Mr. Duterte seems to have willingly taken his place in the pantheon of police-state despots who treated their people as pawns, to be "disappeared" or disposed of in grisly concentration camps. There is sufficient history about such campaigns of terror that the people of the Philippines should say: Enough, this is not for us.