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Dispatches: President Duterte’s Mixed Messages on Rights in the Philippines

‘Rule of Law’ Rhetoric Incompatible with Praise for Police Killings

Here’s the good news: today, President Roderigo Duterte of the Philippines spoke forcefully in support of the rule of law and human rights during his first state of the nation address. During his 100-minute speech, Duterte pledged that his administration, which took office on June 30, “shall be sensitive to the state’s obligations to promote, and protect, fulfill the human rights of our citizens…even as the rule of law shall at all times prevail.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds up a copy of his speech as he speaks before the lawmakers during his first State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines July 25, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

The bad news: Duterte made clear that his government’s “relentless and sustained” campaign against illegal drugs – which Philippine human rights groups have blamed for a “surge of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug offenders” – won’t end anytime soon. Instead, Duterte urged police: “Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or [been] put behind bars or below the ground.”

Hundreds of suspected drug dealers and users are already “below ground” due to police anti-drug operations and killings by unidentified vigilantes. The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s twice-weekly “Kill List,” which tallies the killings of suspected drug dealers and users, records a “marked and unmistakable” rise in such killings, which reached 364 deaths between June 30 and July 21. Duterte has praised the killings as proof of the “success” of the anti-drug campaign and urged police to “seize the momentum.”

Official statistics support assertions of an alarming spike in police killings of drug-related criminal suspects. Philippines National Police data indicate that police killed at least 192 such criminal suspects between May 10 (when Duterte won the election) and July 10. That death toll dwarfs the 68 killings of suspects that police recorded during “anti-drug operations” between January 1 and June 15, 2016.

In his speech Duterte said he intended to protect the rights of women, reproductive health rights, the rights of the urban poor, and the country’s Muslims and Lumad indigenous people. We hope that his administration produces policy initiatives that will provide tangible support for that positive rhetoric. But as long as Duterte is a cheerleader for the summary killing of criminal suspects, the fundamental right to life of all Filipinos is at risk from state-sanctioned murder.
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