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The Philippines’ Cynical Apologists for Duterte’s Brutal ‘Drug War’

Ambassador’s Human Rights Claims an Insult to Victims

The Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom, Antonio Lagdameo, has a unique perspective on the murderous “war on drugs” launched by President Rodrigo Duterte in mid-2016.

Members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) operatives search the area during their anti-drug operaitons in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 16, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

In a letter published on Monday in the Guardian newspaper, Lagdameo asserted that “Duterte’s relentless campaign against illegal drugs is being waged with firm adherence to the rule of law, due process, and human rights.”

If only.

In fact, since Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, police and unidentified gunmen have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and drug dealers. That death toll doesn’t include the drug war victims Duterte calls “collateral damage” – children killed by stray police bullets. Human Rights Watch research has turned the official narrative on its head:  the 3,603 killings the police attribute to “vigilantes” and drug gangs are nothing more than a strategy to shield police and police agents from culpability in death squad-style extrajudicial killings.

Lagdameo’s statement doesn’t just underscore his willful disregard of the brutality of Duterte’s “drug war.” It also suggests he is unaware – or unwilling to publicly acknowledge – how Duterte has made repeated calls for killings as part of his anti-drug campaign, which could constitute acts instigating law enforcement to commit murder. His statements encouraging the general population to commit vigilante violence could be criminal incitement.

The fact that Duterte’s killing campaign has largely targeted urban slum dwellers could amount to crimes against humanity, as defined by the International Criminal Court, of which the Philippines is a member. On March 26, Duterte admitted that impoverished Filipinos constituted a large percentage of drug war victims and sought to justify those killings on the basis that he needed to “clean up” the Philippines.

But Lagdameo isn’t the only Philippine official publicly soft-pedalling the appalling human toll of Duterte’s drug campaign. On Monday, Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa declared that the 107 suspected drug users and drug dealers shot dead by police between March 6 and April 10 were proof the drug war was becoming “less bloody.” But dela Rosa has consistently resisted calls for an independent inquiry into the total 2,662 killings attributed to the police since July 1, 2016 by declaring it would harm police “morale.”

Filipinos deserve accountability for the human rights calamity that Duterte has unleashed on their country in the guise of a “war on drugs,” not cynical spin by diplomats and senior government officials.

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