Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Monday to carry on with his administration’s war on drugs that has left thousands dead since he took office last year, despite condemnation from local and international rights groups.
During a 2½-hour state of the nation address before Congress, Duterte called on critics to help educate the public against the evils of the drug scourge in the country instead of condemning and blaming authorities for every killing.
“I have resolved that no matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because it is the root cause of suffering,” Duterte said.
He warned that those who continue to deal with drugs faced either jail or hell. “And I will make sure, very sure that they will not have the luxury of enjoying the benefits of their greed and madness.
“I do not intend to loosen the leash in the campaign or lose the fight against illegal drugs. Neither do I intend to preside over the destruction of the Filipino youth by being timid and tentative in my decisions and actions,” he said.
Duterte said he was undeterred by the public condemnations, including from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. The drug war is one of the defining issues of his first year in office.
“The fight will be unremitting as it will be unrelenting. Despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease.”
Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the president of neighboring Indonesia, took a similar stance against drug traffickers, saying on Friday that he was authorizing police to shoot at suspects resisting arrest.
“I have said that we should take firm action especially to the foreign drug dealers who come [to Indonesia] and fight back. Just shoot straight away, do not show mercy,” Jokowi said responding to participants at a national meeting of the United Development Party, an Islamic-based political party. “Because we are really in a narcotics emergency position now.”
Philippine police have admitted to killing at least 2,700 alleged drug addicts and drug peddlers since Duterte stepped into office in June 2016. But about 5,700 drug-related deaths were under investigation, including those blamed on vigilantes, police said.
The government has denied accountability for the killings and said the many deaths could be blamed on drug gangs conducting purges among their ranks amid the strengthened anti-drug campaign.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a Duterte critic, said the president’s speech on Monday failed to address many of the public’s concerns and was short on substance.
“It’s akin to a bad open mic performance,” Hontiveros said, describing the congressional address as all sound and fury but lacking in substance.
Duterte has unleashed a human rights calamity in the mostly Catholic nation with his drug war, according to Carlos Conde, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. He said Monday’s speech served to prove fears by rights groups that the bloodshed would continue.
“This can only mean more extra judicial killings and the perpetuation of impunity and absence of accountability,” Conde told BenarNews, adding that the president’s support for the death penalty was a setback for a country that had abolished it a decade earlier.
“The next five years of the Duterte regime will be one of worsened human rights calamity,” Conde said.
“Same old material. Bloody war on drugs, martial law, death penalty and wanton disregard for democracy and human rights,” Hontiveros said, adding that Duterte’s message was lost “to the sheer weight of his disdain to democratic governance.”
Rina Chadijah in Jakarta contributed to this report.