The Philippine presidential spokesman on Monday shrugged off the latest report from the U.S. State Department expressing concern about the nation’s drug war deaths, saying he is confident the government is supported by President Donald Trump.
Harry Roque, a former rights lawyer and spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said the Philippine leader enjoyed the confidence of his counterpart in Washington.
“Their politics are not that far apart,” Roque said, according to transcripts of an interview with a local radio released by the presidential palace. “And it is of our view that President Trump does not prioritize what the State Department report says. So let’s leave it at that, the dynamics of the State Department and President Trump are different.”
He noted that when Trump visited the Philippines last year to join a summit of regional leaders, the U.S. leader declared rebuilding relations with Manila a priority after ties soured between his predecessor and Duterte.
Roque said Trump then praised Duterte’s leadership “especially his war against drugs.”
“So what the State Department reported and what President Trump said appear to be contradicting each other, and President Duterte is more inclined to accept the words of President Trump,” Roque said.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila could not be reached for comment.
In its annual global human rights report for 2017, the U.S. State Department cited unabated killings of drug suspects as a top concern because the majority of the cases have remained unsolved.
“Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country … and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the anti-drug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017,” the latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices said.
The report cited “concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings.”
It said that while the police claimed to have begun investigating all reports of extrajudicial killings, only 1,889 cases have been resolved and 4,373 cases remained under investigation by August 2017.
The report came shortly after the European Parliament released a statement on the drug deaths, something Roque said was unfounded and was akin to interference.
Reacting to the U.S. statement, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano emphasized that the Philippines is a sovereign state with a fully functioning democracy led by a legitimately elected government.
“While we note that the United States and other entities, such as the European Parliament, have their own reporting mechanisms, the Philippines has its own internal processes and mechanisms to ensure that the human rights of all our people are protected and respected,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano said the Philippines was conducting an anti-criminality campaign that was meant “to save lives, to preserve families, to protect communities and stop the country from sliding into a narco-state.”
“We do not need others who think they know better than us Filipinos to tell us what to do. As a sovereign nation, the Philippines deserves the same kind of respect we have been extending to our friends in the international community,” he said.
The Philippine National Police, said the number of alleged drug dealers and addicts killed reached at least 4,043 since Duterte became president in 2016.
But Human Rights Watch and other groups said the figure could actually be higher than 12,000, with many of the deaths blamed on vigilantes who support police efforts.