President Rodrigo Duterte, in a startling revelation, said he ordered a failed hit on a politician he had accused of ties to drug trafficking, but a spokesman said Wednesday that the leader misspoke in a dialect less familiar to him.
During public comments at the presidential palace in Manila on Tuesday night, Duterte complained that narco-politics appeared to have taken over the Philippines. The president mentioned Reynaldo Parojinog and Rolando Espinosa, two mayors whom he had tagged as protectors of drug traffickers and who were killed in violent encounters with police in the past two years.
Duterte also mentioned Vicente Loot, a former police general and former mayor in the central Philippines, whom he had also accused of protecting drug lords. Loot survived an ambush in May 2018 that left four people wounded.
“General Loot, you son of a [expletive] ... I ambushed you, you animal, and you still survived,” the president said.
The remark marked a turnaround from a denial by Duterte last year that he had anything to do with the attempt on Loot’s life. Duterte had accused opposition leader Mar Roxas, who lost to him in the 2016 presidential polls, of orchestrating the attempted hit on Loot, but Duterte never publicly explained how he came about the information, or why Roxas was not charged.
When Loot was still on active duty, he was known to have close ties with Roxas.
In explaining Duterte’s apparent admission about the attack on Loot, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the president was not proficient in Tagalog, the vernacular language used in most areas on Luzon, the main Philippine island.
“What the president intended to say was - you were ambushed and yet you are still alive,” Panelo told reporters on Wednesday. “That has been his line as shown by some transcripts of some of his previous speeches every time he touches on the topic of General Loot’s ambush.”
However, a transcript of the Tuesday event provided to reporters early on Wednesday showed the president speaking in a mix of English and Tagalog. It was clear that the president said he had Loot ambushed.
Duterte has won public approval for his tough stance on crime. When he ran for president three years ago, he promised to end the scourge of drugs.
Since taking office in 2016, nearly 7,000 alleged drug dealers and addicts have been killed by the police, who said officers were forced to use violence because the suspects had refused to surrender peacefully.
Two murder complaints against Duterte have been filed before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But he has since abrogated from a treaty that created the court, so the ICC no longer has a hold on him.
However in July, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council backed a resolution introduced by Iceland to investigate thousands of extrajudicial killings linked to police in the Philippines.