President a loose cannon
PRESIDENT Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) has come under heavy fire from international and domestic human rights groups for sending “confusing and contradictory messages” on his administration’s stance on human rights.
The barrage was unleashed by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which denounced the administration’s ambivalent position shortly after its delivery last Monday.
In a severe critique of the government’s double-talk, Phelim Kine, Asia deputy director of HRW, noted that the President rightly stated that the “rule of law must at all times prevail” and the government should respect “the human rights of our citizens.”
But Kine said Mr. Duterte’s “unwillingness” to use his Sona to demand a thorough investigation of the alarming surge in police killings of suspected dealers and users in recent weeks “symbolizes a critical failure” in his “obligation to defend the rule of law and to uphold and protect the rights and freedoms of all Filipinos.”
Right to life at risk
Kine rebuked Mr. Duterte for “implicitly” voicing support for the rise in police killings of suspected drug dealers and users instead of speaking out against such brutality, adding that the President must publicly “recognize that his duty to respect the rule of law and protect the human rights of Filipinos extends to all Filipinos, including criminal suspects and those implicated in the drug trade.”
He expressed hope that the administration would produce policy initiatives reflecting tangible support for that positive rhetoric.
“But as long as President Duterte turns a blind eye to—or implicitly or explicitly encourages—summary killings, the fundamental right to life of all Filipinos is at risk from potentially random extrajudicial violence,” he warned.
HRW branded Mr. Duterte a “cheerleader” for summary killings of drug suspects. Its reaction came in response to Mr. Duterte’s statement in his Sona that “human rights must work to uplift human dignity” and cannot be used as “a shield or an excuse to destroy the country—your country and my country.”
These remarks turned out be the most contentious passage in the Sona. In his speech, Mr. Duterte exhorted the Philippine National Police and local government officials to redouble their efforts in the war against criminality and drug pushers. He reminded them that during his inauguration on June 30, he pledged that the fight against criminality and illegal drugs would be “relentless and sustained.”
He said, “We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars.”
War hasn’t worked
Duterte’s statement flew in the face of reports that found that the war on drugs has not worked as a successful strategy in the light of the experience of countries that deployed it.
In April, world leaders met at the United Nations to rethink the decades-old global war against drugs and drug abuse.
On the sidelines of that meeting, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told The New York Times that “war that has been fought for more than 40 years has not been won” and “when you do something for 40 years and it doesn’t work, you need to change it.”
That view was echoed in a letter by political leaders from all over the world and even celebrities as Sting and Mary J. Blige, secretary to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The letter said that the “drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous to global health, security and human rights.”
Vast drug market
“Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined moral values,” it said.
The war on drugs has had tragic consequences, the letter argued, citing governments that “devoted disproportionate resources to repression at the expense of the human condition.”
“Tens of millions of people, mostly poor and racial ethnic minorities, were incarcerated mostly for low-level and nonviolent drug law violations with little, if any, benefit to public security,” it said.
The Guardian newspaper has derided Duterte’s populist law and order campaign.
In an editorial, the paper noted Mr. Duterte had said very little that was precise about his policies, but what he had said was not reassuring.
“His tough law and order line has brought in the votes (but ) although he says he is against extrajudicial killing of criminals, the record in Davao City suggests that such killings have been commonplace there. He wants to make the Philippines into a more federal country. The idea is attractive to those who resent Manila’s dominance and lion’s share in everything, but decentralization might bring more problems than it can solve. He rages against the everyday corruption that Filipinos have to endure but offers nothing specific to counter it. Mr. Duterte’s appeal has been his insistence that he can fix everything and does not care what corners to cut.”
His supporters suggest his bark is worse than his bite. But at the end of the day, The Guardian said “there is a cheeky chappy side to Mr. Duterte that can be engaging. But, there can be no denying that, in office, he could prove to be a very loose cannon indeed.”
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