Philippines President Claims to Have Personally Killed Suspected Drug Criminals in the Past

By McCarton Ackerman 12/15/16

“In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can’t you?”

Image: 
President Rodrigo Duterte
Photo via YouTube

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has received worldwide condemnation for urging his country’s citizens to murder drug traffickers and users, but has now justified it by declaring that he’s personally murdered people.

AFP quoted Duterte from a speech made Monday (Dec. 12), in which he claimed to have killed suspected criminals while working as mayor in his hometown of Davao. He said that he was “looking for trouble” as he traveled by motorcycle in the hopes of finding anyone remotely tied to the city's drug use. His approach while serving as mayor earned him the nickname “Duterte Harry,” a reference to the ruthless police inspector played by Clint Eastwood in the 1971 film Dirty Harry.

“In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show the [police officers] that if I can do it, why can’t you?” he said. “And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle … and I would just patrol the streets … I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

But Vitaliano Aguirre II, justice secretary of the Philippines, tried to downplay Duterte’s comments two days later. He insisted that “the president always resorts to hyperbole; he always exaggerates just to put his message across.” Duterte had previously denied having any involvement in drug-related deaths that took place in Davao.

Duterte urged the public to murder drug dealers and users even before he took on the role of president in June. On the day of his inauguration, he told a crowd of 500 supporters, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” Despite his approach, he earned a 91% trust rating among voters as recently as July.

But while supporters point to Davao’s record-low crime rates as proof that his approach is working, it isn’t coming without a price. A New York Times photo essay released earlier this month showed the graphic brutality of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign by documenting 57 murder victims over 35 days, with one bystander declaring that “they are slaughtering us like animals.”

As of Dec. 14, the death toll exceeded just over 6,000 people who have been killed since Duterte took office on June 30, but the president said in October that “you can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more” in the coming months.

“I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone ... What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness,” said photographer Daniel Berehulak. “Police officers summarily [shot] anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to 'slaughter them all.'”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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