MANILA (AFP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is a “serial killer” who should be forced out of office, one of his chief critics said Tuesday (Feb 21), as she faced arrest on drug charges which she insisted were meant to silence her.
Senator Leila de Lima invoked the famous “People Power” revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago, in her strongest comments yet against Duterte and his war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives.
“There is no more doubt that our president is a murderer and sociopathic serial killer,” De Lima told reporters, as she called on Duterte’s Cabinet to declare him unfit to lead and urged ordinary Filipinos to voice opposition to his rule.
De Lima said the constitution allowed for a majority in his Cabinet to force him to step down by ruling that he was mentally incapacitated, and urged members to do so. If they did not, she referred to the mass uprising that in 1986 ended the “iron fist” of Marcos’s dictatorship.
“Now the time has come again for us to be brave and stand up to another criminal dictator and his evil regime,” De Lima said. She also compared Duterte to Batman’s foe, the Joker, saying the president was also a “psychotic murderer” who led other villains in committing crimes.
The government last week charged De Lima, a former national human rights commissioner, with orchestrating a drug trafficking ring when she was justice secretary in the previous administration.
De Lima, 57, her supporters and rights groups have said the charges against her are manufactured to silence her as well as intimidate other people who may want to speak out against the president.
“The prosecution of Senator Leila de Lima is an act of political vindictiveness that debases the rule of law in the Philippines,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said this week.
“The Duterte administration seems intent on using the courts to punish prominent critics of its murderous ‘war on drugs’.”
De Lima could be detained anytime, although the courts hearing the cases must issue an arrest warrant. When asked about De Lima’s comments on Tuesday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella simply described them as “colourful language” and pointed out that Duterte would allow public demonstrations against him.
Duterte, 71, won the presidential election last year after promising during the campaign to eradicate drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people.
He immediately launched the crackdown after taking office in June and police have reported killing 2,555 drug suspects since then, with about 4,000 other people murdered in unexplained circumstances.
Amnesty International has warned that police actions in the drug war may amount to crimes against humanity.
Duterte has at times insisted he and his security forces are not breaking any laws in prosecuting the drug war.
On other occasions he has boasted of killing people to set an example for police and said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts in the Philippines.
Late last month Duterte ordered police to halt involvement in the drug war after the media revealed that anti-drugs officers had kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman as part of an extortion racket.
But he has vowed to continue the drug war with the military’s support, while rights groups say extrajudicial killings of drug suspects by unknown attackers are continuing.
The powerful Roman Catholic Church, which helped lead the People Power revolution, has in recent months begun speaking out against the drug war and on Saturday held a rally against the killings, attracting thousands of people.
But Duterte remains popular with many Filipinos, who see him as the strongman needed to fight drugs and corruption, and there is little expectation of a popular uprising against him in the near future.