Philippine President Duterte’s drive against drugs sparks a war of words
The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently came down heavily on the United Nations (UN) for questionings his government’s two-month old war on drugs that has already killed more than a thousand suspected drug users and dealers and sparked fears across the nation.
Duterte, who was once accused of heading a death squad and killing over a thousand people during his 23-year reign as mayor of Davao City in southern Philippines, told UN to stop meddling in Philippine affairs and threatened to withdraw the country’s membership from the body.
There are more serious matters that the UN body should attend to like the bombings in Syria affecting children like the dazed and bloodied boy Omran Daqneesh shown in a disturbing video after being pulled out of the rubble.
“I don’t read anybody in that stupid body complaining about the stench of death [in Syria],” Duterte said.
“Maybe, we will just have to decide to separate from the United Nations…Take us out, you have not done anything. When were you here the last time? Never. Except to criticize. Food for the world? There’s the world but there’s no food,” he said adding that “the UN fell short of the protocol for respect.”
“And you expect me to have respect to them,” he asked.
This is not the first time that the President has criticized the UN for questioning his methods of fighting crime. Last June, he attacked the UN for failing to solve the conflict in the Middle East and not helping the “black people” in Africa.
Duterte has been contemptuous of groups and individuals criticizing his methods which, he earlier admitted, sometimes bordered on the illegal.
Recently, he reacted angrily when Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno told him to follow the constitutional order and let the Supreme Court do its duty of cleaning its own ranks.
“With all due respect, Mr. President, we were caught unprepared by the announcement. It would matter greatly to our sense of constitutional order if we were given the chance to administer the appropriate preventive measures without the complications of a premature public announcement,” the Chief Justice said.
The Chief Justice made the statement after Duterte named seven judges as having links to illegal drugs and gave them 24 hours to report to their “‘mother unit.”
In the Philippines, as a democratic State, the basic state authority is delegated to three branches of government — the Executive, which is headed by President Duterte, the Judiciary, headed by Sereno and the Legislative or the Upper and Lower Houses. Each branch is supreme in its own sphere.
In response, Duterte called Sereno the “kingpin in the judiciary” and even threatened to declare martial law if the Chief Justice stood in the way of his war against drugs.
Sereno opted not to respond to Duterte’s tirades, instead ordered an investigation against the judges he identified. Duterte later apologized to Sereno for the ‘harsh words” he used against her.
Aside from his outburst against the UN, he attacked a lady senator who initiated an investigation against the spate of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs.
The President then revealed Senator Leila de Lima’s relationship with her driver/bodyguard who allegedly collects money from drug lords inside the national penitentiary.
“You started this ruckus. You made yourself popular at my expense,” Duterte said about De Lima who, as former justice secretary and head of the Commission on Human Rights, had investigated his involvement in the dreaded Davao Death Squad.
Even the Communist Party of the Philippines called on the President to address the spate of extrajudicial killings.
“What have they done against illegal drugs,” Duterte responded.
Critics are questioning the seemingly double standard of the government in the fight against drugs because majority of the victims are poor while those caught alive –especially Chinese narcotics traders – have moved the court against their arrests.
Some of those killed in Duterte’s anti-drug war were innocent people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time like the math teacher and anti-crime volunteer who was sleeping at the house of his cousin who turned out to be a drug pusher. Some criminals are taking advantage of the war on drugs to perpetrate other offenses. They recently shot dead the son of a television reporter during a robbery.
“It can happen…does it make the world livable because there is less killing,” Duterte asked.
Police data shows that 5,632 police operations were conducted under “Oplan Double Barrel” resulting in 8,623 arrests. Some 576,146 drug users and dealers have surrendered so far.
ABS-CBN reported 1,127 drug-related fatalities from May 10 to August 19. Of them, 682 people were killed in police operations, 351 were killed by unidentified assailants while 94 bodies were found away from the crime scene.
The unidentified assailants, according to Duterte and the head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Ronald Dela Rosa, could be drug syndicates wiping each other out.
Senior Superintendent Fausto Manzanilla Jr., Executive Officer of the Directorate for Investigative and Detective Management, said while there are reports of vigilante groups or ‘death squads’, there is no concrete evidence of their existence.
Some of the victims were shot dead by motorcyclists while bodies of others were wrapped in plastic and packing tapes with a sign “I am a pusher/drug addict. Do not emulate.”
Duterte said the police and military would never indulge in such acts.
“It is not the work of the police — wrapping people with plastic and putting them in the bag. That is not the job of the police. I just told him that one bullet will do. Why do they have to wrap it, it will be a waste of their time,” he said.
The UN human rights experts, however, said allegations of drug trafficking should be judged in the court of law, not by gunmen on the streets.
But Duterte pointed out that former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra too had launched a similar “war on drugs” that killed 3,000 people and “no one questioned him.”
He said the number of deaths due to violence during the previous administration was the same as now. The only difference was that while drug users and drug dealers are being targeted now, those killed before the previous regime were children raped by drug addicts or victims of mugging.
With over three million drug addicts in the Philippines, Duterte asked “What am I supposed to do as a President? Empower the military and the police, for after all, they are there to protect the integrity and preserve the people of the Philippines.”
“My job, ladies and gentlemen and of the United Nations, my job as a President is to protect the innocent law-abiding citizens. I was never tasked by any law to protect the life of criminals,” Duterte said reiterating his willingness to put his position and life at stake if he ever fails to deliver his promise of a drug-free Philippines in six months.
Senator De Lima said “any right-thinking nation should be shocked…This is no less than abuse and misuse of executive power.”