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Indonesia Defends Award to Philippine Police Chief Leading Drug War

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
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Philippine National Police Chief Director Gen. Ronald dela Rosa inspects a machine gun during blessing rites of new equipment for law-enforcement officers in Manila, Feb. 1, 2018.

Indonesian police on Thursday defended giving the highest award to the Philippine’s top law-enforcement official despite criticism of a statement describing the man leading Manila’s deadly drug war as a “rockstar-like inspiration.”

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Ronald dela Rosa personally received the Medal of Honor from Indonesian Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian on Wednesday. Police chiefs of Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia and Brunei Darussalam also received the honor.

It was not clear why dela Rosa was chosen to received that medal, but a press statement from the PNP said it was bestowed because of his “important role in the cooperation and contribution to the security of Indonesia and the Philippines.”

Media outlets quoted Karnavian as saying that dela Rosa was a “rockstar-like inspiration to the Indonesian national police and the Indonesian people on how to fight the war on drugs.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reacted angrily to the announcement.

“That’s a perverse assessment of a Philippine government official implicated in possible crimes against humanity for inciting and instigating killings linked to the government’s  war on drugs,” said Phelim Kine, a deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Setyo Wasisto, spokesman of the Indonesian National Police, told BenarNews on Thursday that the medal was given based on cooperation between the two national police institutions.

“What we assess is cooperation between the [two] police [institutions] and not just now but that has existed for years,” he said. “We do not assess [Manila’s] internal policy.”

Kine said that based on figures from nongovernmental groups and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, more than 12,000 people had been killed in Manila’s drug campaign since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in June 2016.

Amid the controversy, the Philippine police announced Thursday that more suspected drug pushers and addicts were killed in sustained counter-narcotics operations during the past two weeks.

The PNP said that since Duterte reactivated the police in the country's anti-drug war in December, “sixty-five died in police operations.” The latest figure brings the total number of deaths to 4,033 since June 2016, according to a tally by BenarNews staff.

The government figures do not include the thousands believed to have been killed by pro-government vigilantes.

“Indonesia’s police chief Karnavian has expressed fondness for violent extrajudicial approaches to illegal drug use previously. In July he publicly touted the shooting of drug dealers as the ideal approach,” Kine said. “That’s possible instigation of deadly violence.”

On Aug. 17, 2017, Indonesian officials defended extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers one day after Amnesty International said they had tripled in the last year.

Indonesian police killed at least 60 drug suspects in 2017, compared to 18 in 2016, the rights group said, expressing alarm that Indonesia “could be looking to emulate the murderous ‘war on drugs’ in neighboring Philippines.”

Dela Rosa, according to Manila newspapers, expressed his gratitude Wednesday to Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Karnavian.

“Thank you for this award and this will inspire me more to exert more effort in our drug war,” he reportedly said in a video message.

Statement could backfire

I understand that the award is given to motivate (Indonesian police) members who are in charge of drug eradication to be brave to act under two conditions, which are in accordance with the rule of law and still respect human rights,” retired Indonesian Inspector General Bekto Suprapto told BenarNews,

But Muhammad Isnur, chairman of the Advocacy of Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), said Karnavian comments could backfire.

“This is not in accordance with what Tito promised during his nomination as the national police chief who will apply the concept of professional, modern and trustworthy, which means also respecting human rights,” Isnur said referring to Karnavian by his first name.

On Thursday during a meeting at the Mobile Brigade Command Headquarters in Jakarta, Karnavian reminded his staff not to hesitate to shoot drug dealers who fight back when they are about to be arrested.

“Strict action, if there are drug dealers who fight back, shoot them,” he said.

Last year, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said at least 4.5 million Indonesians had become addicted or exposed to drugs and called for lethal force against foreign drug dealers who resist arrest.

“Be firm, especially to foreign drug dealers who enter the country and resist arrest. Enough, just shoot them. Be merciless,” he said in a July 21, 2017, speech in Jakarta.

Widodo’s government has executed 18 convicted drug offenders amid protest from foreign governments and rights groups.

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