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Philippines: Duterte Should Disavow Threat to Lawyers

Drug Suspects’ Legal Counsel Latest Target in Abusive ‘War on Drugs’

(New York) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte should disavow his threat to target the lawyers of alleged drug dealers and reaffirm the right of criminal suspects to legal counsel and due process of law, Human Rights Watch said today.

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at Camp Servillano S. Aquino in Tarlac, Philippines on December 11, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

At a public event in Manila on December 7, 2016, Duterte said that drug suspects were able to post bail and avoid prosecution because they have “good, high-profile lawyers,” warning, “Even their lawyers, I will include them.” Duterte’s remarks, amid an abusive “war on drugs” that has resulted in the deaths of more than 5,000 Filipinos since July 1, follows a similar warning to human rights defenders on November 28 for allegedly fostering drug use in the country.

“Duterte’s threats against lawyers and human rights defenders constitute a dangerous extension of his abusive ‘war on drugs’ that has already resulted in more than 5,000 killings,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The sinister lesson of Duterte’s first six months in office is that the groups and individuals he publicly identifies as legitimate targets in his drug war all too often end up dead, in high numbers.”

Philippine National Police statistics indicate that police killed 2,086 “drug personalities” between July 1 and December 12. Police have attributed those killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” but have not provided further evidence that police acted in self-defense. The Philippine National Police say that an additional 3,841 alleged drug users and drug dealers were killed by “unidentified gunmen” between July 1 and November 30.

Duterte has responded to prior public challenges to the killing campaign with similar intimidation tactics. Senator Leila De Lima’s senate hearings in August to probe the legality of the spiraling death toll prompted a torrent of harassment and intimidation from Duterte and other government officials. In August, Duterte told a crowd of supporters that De Lima should commit suicide, saying, “If I were De Lima, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll hang myself.” In October, Duterte announced that the challenges of prosecuting his drug war sometimes made him “tempted really to declare martial law.” A month later, Duterte issued a public warning that he may suspend the right of habeas corpus.

“Duterte’s efforts to intimidate lawyers, human rights defenders, and lawmakers demonstrate that he’s willing to extend his abusive ‘war on drugs’ from the slaughter of criminal suspects to anyone who might object to that bloodletting,” Kine said. “Unless Duterte walks back those threats, his government will bury the rule of law along with the thousands of suspected criminals killed since he took office on June 30.”

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