Duterte defends deadly anti-crime war

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte promises to wipe out crime and illegal drugs during his inaugural State of the Nation Address.
Filipinos expressing their views during a march ahead of President Duterte's first State of the Nation Address yesterday.
Filipinos expressing their views during a march ahead of President Duterte's first State of the Nation Address yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Filipinos expressing their views during a march ahead of President Duterte's first State of the Nation Address yesterday.
NO HIDING BEHIND SHIELD OF HUMAN RIGHTS: Human rights must work to uplift human dignity. But human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country, my country, your country. - PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTEPHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

S. China Sea gets brief mention in his State of the Nation Address

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday defended his deadly anti-crime war even as he enumerated a host of big measures to bring economic relief to wage earners, conclude peace with communist and Muslim rebels, fix infrastructure bottlenecks and improve disbursement of government resources through a shift to federalism.

"We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars - or below the ground if they so wish," Mr Duterte said in his first State of the Nation Address before Congress.

Mr Duterte, 71, swept to victory in the May 9 elections on a promise to eradicate crime and corruption.

He has cheered on as security forces and unnamed vigilante groups began shooting down suspected drug kingpins and their dealers.

Since he was sworn into office on June 30, more than 240 men linked to the narcotics trade have turned up dead, according to police.

Addressing concerns that his war on crime has led to a culture of impunity, he said: "Human rights must work to uplift human dignity. But human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country, my country, your country," he said.

Mr Duterte said, turning to criminals: "If you do not want to die, you do not want to get hurt, do not run to a priest or invoke human rights. They will not to be able to stop death… I keep saying, do not do it because we will have a problem."

Mr Richard Javad Heydarian, a political analyst at De La Salle University, said Mr Duterte's take on human rights is nuanced, as it leans closer to Asian values.

"For him, human rights must be in harmony with the interest of the community. It is more collectivist, unlike in the West where the focus is on the individual," he said.

In his speech, which was expected to last for just 38 minutes but ran on for an hour and a half, Mr Duterte also addressed a festering dispute with China over the South China Sea, but only briefly.

He said he will "strongly affirm and respect the outcome" of a case that handed the Philippines a sweeping verdict over China. On July 12, an Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague struck down Beijing's expansive claims over the South China Sea.

In a surprising move, Mr Duterte declared a "unilateral ceasefire" with communist rebels.

Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, a former professor of Mr Duterte, said he "welcomes" this step, and that Mr Duterte can expect a "positive response".

Mr Duterte also said he will push for a stalled law granting Muslim rebels an autonomous region in the southern island group of Mindanao.

Among the other points Mr Duterte addressed in his speech, he promised to cut personal and corporate income taxes, and push for a federal form of government, as well as a controversial birth control law opposed by the Catholic Church.

He vowed to cut bureaucratic red tape and asked lawmakers to grant him emergency powers to deal with metropolitan Manila's worsening traffic problems.

Mr Duterte said he would review the Philippines' commitment to cut carbon emissions under a historic climate deal concluded in Paris last year, and backed his Environment Minister who had been cracking down on errant mining firms.

Veteran journalist Marites Vitug said while Mr Duterte's speech was expansive and heavy on bullet points, it lacked the big picture "and maybe the long view".

"Everything seems subsumed under the war on drugs," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte defends deadly anti-crime war'. Print Edition | Subscribe