Duterte according to Western media
CANBERRA—As the Duterte administration marked its first 100 days, and as its war on drugs continued to gain international attention, it landed on the front page of the French newspaper Liberation (Oct. 7) with the headline “Rodrigo Duterte, the serial killer president.”
The report, written by Liberation correspondents in Manila, sought to explain the reasons for President Duterte’s immense popularity not just in his home base Davao City but also nationwide. His wide support base “is what allowed him to carry out the war against drugs with minimal opposition from the masses,” it said.
The Liberation report capped Mr. Duterte’s turbulent three-month rule since he took office, rocked by international condemnation of the brutal crackdown on suspected drug users and pushers—a campaign that has left at least 3,000 mostly impoverished Filipinos dead, a large number in questionable circumstances. The administration has blamed anonymous hitmen for the extrajudicial killings.
The international media have focused their reports on the “EJKs,” which have given the Philippines a notorious reputation as Asia’s new killing fields and a nascent populist dictatorship under a constitutional democracy.
The Liberation report is the latest from the Western press on the Philippines’ killing fields. Last September, Time magazine featured Mr. Duterte on the front page of its Asia edition with the headline “The Punisher.”
In a dispatch from its correspondent in Bangkok, Lindsay Murdoch, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Mr. Duterte could face criminal charges as the death count in his war on drugs mounts. Quoting human rights advocates, the Australian newspaper said certain remarks by Mr. Duterte could be used as evidence to prosecute him.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Sam Zarifi, from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), as saying it is likely that as the killings continue, lawyers will gather evidence to initiate legal proceedings against Mr. Duterte, as 9,541 victims of human rights violations did against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In 1995, a US court awarded the victims $1.9 billion in damages after finding that Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, was responsible for massive human rights abuses, including torture, murder and “disappearances of fellow Filipinos.”
At the time, lawyers said the verdict set a ground-breaking precedent upholding the principle that military “command responsibility” for wartime misconduct is applicable in a class action alleging peacetime human rights abuses by agents of a political leader.
Zarifi, the ICJ’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, told the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Thailand that “the killings in the Philippines since Duterte was swept into office in the May elections are widespread and systematic, meeting the criteria under the international law of crimes against humanity that could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.” He also said that while anyone can submit a case to the International Criminal Court, prosecutors there would be unlikely to initiate proceedings unless pressed by a global political movement.
“I am not holding my breath for international action, but if these [killings] continue at the same velocity, I would expect cases to start popping up,” Zarifi said. “Duterte has made many comments that could be used against him in foreign courts, including several weeks ago declaring: ‘My order is to shoot to kill. I don’t care about human rights … this is a war against drugs and we have to fight it.’”
Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, has described the first months of Mr. Duterte’s rule as “nothing less than absolute human rights disaster.” He added: “We have the highest elected official of the land openly, actively, aggressively calling for extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects. The numbers are absolutely shocking.”
Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.
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