On Saturday, the Philippines government lashed out at United Nations human rights council (UNHRC) experts seeking an investigation into alleged killings during President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing drug war. They called the campaign “an outrageous interference” on the country’s sovereignty. The Duterte regime stands unfazed.
Presidential spokesman, Salvador Panelo, slammed the UN team and accused them of “peddling a biased and absolutely false recital of facts.” He vehemently declared that the Southeast Asian nation was an independent democracy with a functioning judiciary and legal system. “Let the enemies of the state and their supporters from foreign soil be forewarned that no amount of destructive narratives against this government will envelope it with the appearance of pretended truth to hoodwink the Filipino people in embracing it,” Mr. Panelo rebuked.
Duterte’s war on drugs (his signature policy) has earned him the nicknames ‘The Punisher’ and ‘Duterte Harry’. His government claims to have killed over 5,000 people in the last 3 years - mostly addicts and dealers. Rights groups however, assume that the number of deaths could be 20,000 to 30,000.
On Friday, the UNHRC called for an investigation into these claims of excessive killings, saying “There are now thousands of grieving families in the Philippines,”. “We call on the international community to do everything possible to ensure there will be no more.
Duterte built his legacy combating some of the biggest problems facing the Philippines - crime, terrorism and corruption. All three dropped significantly during his prior tenure as mayor of Davao, making the second biggest city one of the safest in the archipelago nation. In the 2016 presidential elections, he campaigned on a platform vowing to replicate that success on a nationwide level. He eventually delivered this promise. Mr Duterte has said that his avenging angel task had to be undertaken because it is the “primary duty of the state” to protect its citizens.
Many nations in the region are just as tough when it comes to enforcing drug laws. Singapore, most notably with the lowest opioid use per capita in the world is known for its merciless implementation of the death penalty for drug trafficking. Cases in neighboring Indonesia,where cases of foreign nationals (mostly Westerners in Bali) receiving death sentences for drug peddling have also made international headlines. In addition, Duterte has inspired the government of Sri Lanka to copy his ruthless tactics - this made multiple rights groups livid.
The Philippines is a stopover destination for heroin produced in the Golden triangle - the world’s second biggest opium producing region, which lies in the mountain range between Burma and Vietnam. Duterte feels that a no-nonsense stance is best to solve this problem rather than treat it like a medical issue, which is what the UN prescribes.
Panelo described the U.N. experts as “foreign propagandists masquerading as human rights protectors”, and countered their comments arguing that their claims were “an outrageous interference on Philippine sovereignty”.
He stated the obvious — those who have spoken against Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign and human rights record have been “overwhelmingly rejected” by Filipinos. This was proven in the May midterm elections where Duterte and his allies won a clear victory despite all the fake news claims.
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” Mr Duterte said, adding that his goal is to stop drug abuse from wrecking Filipino families. In 2016, he called Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, chief of UNHRC at the time ‘an idiot’. 3 years on, he still refuses to yield to their feeble attempt to end his all-out Punisher campaign.
Mr. Duterte has threatened International Criminal Court investigators with arrest should they even step into Manila.