Duterte Administration: Human Rights Not as Important as War on Drugs

By Bryan Le 03/06/17

A spokesman for the Philippine government says they don't support extrajudicial killings, but that drug war deaths are necessary.

Police officers patrol Divisoria Market in Manila on April 27, 2014.
Police are said to be turning a blind eye to vigilante killings of drug criminals.

After the U.S. State Department condemned the Philippine government for condoning the vigilante murders of drug dealers and users, a spokesman for the government has responded by making a distinction between extrajudicial killings and the execution of drug offenders.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs has claimed about 8,000 lives during its eight-month campaign. Around 2,555 of these deaths are counted as casualties in confrontations with police, but international rights groups claim that a large number of the deaths were assassinations to which police have turned a blind eye.

Philippine authorities dispute these claims, officially stating that police are required to follow the law and that extrajudicial killings are not tolerated. They instead blame the deaths on rival drug gangs or vigilantes working without anyone’s approval. 

As it turns out, at least one person has explicitly condoned such assassinations—President Duterte himself: "Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun — you have my support," he said last June upon taking office. "Shoot [them] and I'll give you a medal."

When the State Department’s annual Report on Human Rights Practices pointed out the hypocrisy by Philippine officials, Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella argued that these killings are not in conflict with their position against extrajudicial killings.

"Vigilante or extrajudicial killings are unlawful and are therefore not sanctioned. The government condemns such practice," Abella said in a statement. "These are not to be confused with the government's war on illegal drugs, which is an urgent and critical domestic matter."

Abella asked for the support of the international community in their continuing “noble crusade” against drugs.

President Duterte—who says he used to kill drug criminals as his hometown’s mayor “just to show the [police officers] that if I can do it, why can’t you?”—seems to have majority support among the Philippine people with a 91% trust rating as of July 2016.

Always at odds with Obama, Duterte claims to have found approval from President Donald Trump after a phone call between the two in December, even snagging an invite to the White House from the then-president elect. 

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter