The Philippines on Wednesday defended its anti-drug war from widespread criticism that followed the killings by police of 15 people, including a southern mayor whom President Rodrigo Duterte had declared as being on his list of suspected traffickers.
Rights advocates as well as leading public officials, including ex-President Benigno Aquino, questioned Duterte’s violent methods, saying these did little to dent the widespread use of narcotics in the country.
“With all due respect to former president Aquino, the results of [Duterte’s] anti-illegal drug campaign speak for themselves,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
“Comments like the above from past leaders imply a jaded cynicism borne of a history of political opportunism,” he stressed.
Abella said the campaign had led to the “unprecedented voluntary surrender” of about 1.3 million drug users and the arrests of more than 96,700 others. This was higher than the 77,800 people arrested in the entire six years of Aquino’s presidency, he noted.
In one year alone under Duterte’s young administration, police have seized more than 2,400 kilos of the banned stimulant methamphetamine hydrochloride compared with about 3,200 kilos during his predecessor’s entire term, Abella said.
“Much ground has been gained in the campaign against hard drug traffickers and violators,” he said. “But the mission is to end the demand, production, distribution and sale of illegal drugs.”
‘I cannot build a nation in disarray’: Duterte
A day earlier, Aquino questioned Duterte’s “all-out war” against drugs, which has led to thousands of suspected small-time pushers and traffickers allegedly being killed at the hands of police and vigilantes.
“All I can say is during my term, there were some 1.8 million drug users. Now, despite an all-out campaign against drugs, there are still 1.8 million users according to a survey by the government,” Aquino said, arguing that despite the bloodshed, illegal drugs remained a huge problem.
In a speech to tax collectors on Wednesday, Duterte appeared to bristle at Aquino’s comments, saying the former president appeared to belittle the problem that had “placed in jeopardy the next generation of the Philippines.”
“I am trying to protect and build a nation. I cannot built a nation in disarray,” Duterte said, adding that human rights bodies that have questioned his government’s methods were “stupid.”
Deadly raid in south
Sunday’s anti-drugs operation in southern Ozamiz city left 15 people dead, including Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, his wife, Susan, and brother, Octavio. His daughter, Nova Princess, the deputy mayor, was arrested and taken to Manila to face charges of drug trafficking.
Duterte had earlier publicly named Parojinogs on his list of 150 politicians, judges and members of the police and military personnel suspected of being involved in drug trafficking. The Parojinogs had denied the accusation.
Parojinog was the third mayor on Duterte’s drug list to be killed, and national police chief Ronald dela Rosa has vowed that more arrests would follow.
The deadly raid came a week after Duterte vowed before Congress that he would carry on with his drug war, as he lambasted local and International rights groups who had questioned his methods.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.