Duterte vows to press on with drug war

An anti-government protester, wearing a mask that plays on Mr Rodrigo Duterte's name, taking part in a march towards the Philippine Congress ahead of the President's second State of the Nation address yesterday.
An anti-government protester, wearing a mask that plays on Mr Rodrigo Duterte's name, taking part in a march towards the Philippine Congress ahead of the President's second State of the Nation address yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Remains of a victim of the Marawi siege at a mass burial in Marawi yesterday. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing recently. Mr Duterte's tax reforms aim to fund his S$215 billion infrastructure prog
A National Bureau of Investigation chemist with seized shabu drugs in Manila in May.PHOTO: REUTERS
Remains of a victim of the Marawi siege at a mass burial in Marawi yesterday. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing recently. Mr Duterte's tax reforms aim to fund his S$215 billion infrastructure prog
Remains of a victim of the Marawi siege at a mass burial in Marawi yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Remains of a victim of the Marawi siege at a mass burial in Marawi yesterday. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing recently. Mr Duterte's tax reforms aim to fund his S$215 billion infrastructure prog
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing recently. PHOTO: REUTERS
Remains of a victim of the Marawi siege at a mass burial in Marawi yesterday. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing recently. Mr Duterte's tax reforms aim to fund his S$215 billion infrastructure prog
Mr Duterte's tax reforms aim to fund his S$215 billion infrastructure programme. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He also addresses communist, terror threats in speech to nation

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed yesterday to press on with his war on drugs, even as he acknowledged new challenges from Islamist extremism in the southern Philippines and a resurgent communist insurgency.

"We are in for trouble because we live in troubled and uncertain times. And I fear that things might get worse before they become better," he said in his second State of the Nation Address.

But Mr Duterte, 72, who began his six-year term in June last year, told lawmakers in a two-hour speech that he would stay the course.

He said the fight against illegal drugs, which has led to at least 3,000 killed either in police raids or attacks by vigilantes, "will be unrelenting despite international and local pressures. The fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease, they have to stop, because the alternative is either jail or hell".

Various local and international groups and organisations, including the United Nations, have criticised the crackdown.

But the President again asked Congress to approve a law reinstating the death penalty to deal with crime, saying: "In the Philippines, it's really an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. You took a life, then you must pay (for) it with life."

Turning to separate ongoing wars against Islamist militants and communist insurgents, Mr Duterte said he would "build a credible armed forces that can fight at all fronts everywhere".

TERROR IN MINDANAO

Terrorism is everywhere in Mindanao... They just want to slaughter. They just want to destroy. That is ISIS.

MR DUTERTE, on the fight against militants. 

SINO-PHILIPPINE TIES

We are cultivating further relations with China to ease tensions between the two countries.

MR DUTERTE, on defusing tensions with China. 

TAX CHANGES

I call on the Senate to support my tax reform (Bill) in full... These reforms are designed to be pro-poor.

MR DUTERTE, on tax tweaks that will help the poor. 

THE DRUG BATTLE

No matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because that is the root cause of so much evil and so much suffering.

MR DUTERTE, on the campaign against drugs.

He said he would beef up special forces units with about 10,000 to 15,000 more men, and take up one country's offer of high-altitude drones to help government troops fighting in the southern city of Marawi.

He did not name the country, but Singapore offered a drone detachment during a two-day working visit in Manila by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen last week.

Hundreds of Islamist militants stormed Marawi on May 23 in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The attack, which forced Mr Duterte to declare martial law across Mindanao island, displaced more than 500,000.

Mr Duterte said he declared martial law "because I believe that was the fastest way to quell the rebellion at the least cost to lives and properties".

As the fighting in Marawi entered the third month, he assuaged fears he would expand the law to cover the rest of the Philippines. "There will be no nationwide martial law because I will look stupid before the eyes of the public, and I'm not ready to be called stupid," he said.

In a news conference after the speech, Mr Duterte admitted that there was a "failure of intelligence" that led to the siege in Marawi - a statement that underscored the scale of the problem.

"Terrorism is everywhere in Mindanao... It is revolution of a bastardised ideology. They just want to slaughter. They just want to destroy. That is ISIS. That is the revolution in Mindanao."

On the foreign policy front, Mr Duterte promoted his decision to pursue warmer relations with China despite a long-running row over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.

He revealed that the Philippines and China "are already there", apparently referring to a disputed reef where there is believed to be huge oil and gas deposits. "They are talking and they are exploring," he said, without providing details.

Mr Duterte, meanwhile, asked the Senate to approve his tax reform package meant to fund his ambitious eight trillion peso (S$215 billion) infrastructure programme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Duterte vows to press on with drug war'. Print Edition | Subscribe