‘De-link drug war from human rights issue’

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte vowed Monday to continue his controversial drug war that has claimed thousands of lives in the past year, but stressed the killings should not be linked with the issue of human rights.

The 71-year-old President, addressing his countrymen in the second State of the Nation Address since he took office on June 30 last year, warned of what he called his “unrelenting” stance on the drug menace, despite the international flak he had received. 

“When you talk about an incident, you talk with the police. But do not connect it with due process and human rights,” the President said, throwing yet again, in Filipino words, a snide against top officials of the United Nations who would criticize him. 

“If there were children raped, you never spoke in condemnation. But when western experts are here, you give too much importance,” he said. 

In what was seen as a fiery address, beamed nationwide to more than 100 million Filipinos on television and government radio, in late afternoon, Duterte outlined his vision of an “eye-for-an-eye” justice system.

Duterte, who also urged lawmakers to reintroduce the death penalty, devoted many paragraphs of his Sona to pushing his law-and-order policies that have made him hugely popular with many Filipinos but been condemned by human rights groups and other critics.

“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,” Duterte told lawmakers from both houses of Congress as well as members of his Cabinet, former Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III did not attend the ceremonies.

“The fight 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 alternatives are either jail or hell.”

Duterte swept to victory in last year’s presidential elections after promising an unprecedented crackdown on drugs in which tens of thousands of people would die.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

Since he took office on June 30 last year, police have reported killing nearly 3,200 people in the drug war.

More than 2,000 other people have been killed in drug-related crimes, according to police data. Rights groups say many of those victims have been killed by vigilante death squads linked to the government.

In his address, the tough talking Duterte, said in his address: “I ask Congress to act on legislation to reimpose the death penalty on heinous crimes, especially illegal drug trafficking.”

He emphasized that capital punishment was about “retribution” as much as deterrence.  

“In the Philippines, it is really an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. You took a life, you must pay it to die. That is the only way to get even.”

The lower house of Congress this year passed a bill to bring back the death penalty, but the Senate has yet to approve it. 

Criticizing what he called a “stupid” pronouncement by a UN official, who claimed that drug substances did not damage the brain, Duterte turned into responding to his critics, who would often raise the issue of human rights in lambasting his bloody drug war. 

“Do not delude us… Everyday, one family is being raped [but] you trivialize human rights  with [the issue of] due process,” he said. 

In making his point, Duterte explained that the country’s code of penal laws, the Revised Penal Code, was made to deliver justice through “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  

“The thrust of the Revised Penal Code is retribution, that’s why you have penalty,” he said, as he pushed for the reinstatement of capital punishment. 

“The only way to deter crime is to instill fear,” he added. 

The President said those who criticize him on the concerns on human rights “stinks” and their mouths “smell.”

“If you want to criticize, condemn the act—[then] stop there. But do not give the excuse or make it trivialized. [Raising] human rights—that’s the lousiest thing any person could do.”

“When you find due process, do not talk [as] when there is a carnage, [then proceed to] blabber talk about human rights,” he said. 

Duterte then challenged his critics to a debate: “I challenge you. You want a debate in public? I will give you.”

He likewise threw potshots against his top critic, detained Senator Leila de Lima, for whom he expressed  disgust for gaining the support of some human rights organizations. 

Duterte reiterated that De Lima was guilty of condoning the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs” inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was secretary of Justice. 

Of De Lima, he said: “I challenge you…you give importance to De Lima. You were all here, you conducted an investigation. You saw the videos. Is she a credible woman? Can she be a moral person? You [his critics] are all for drama.”

He shrugged off criticisms on his war on drugs, saying he had to carry on with his crusade to save the youth.

“I don’t intend to lose in the campaign, or lose the fight against illegal drugs. Neither do I intend to preside over the destruction of Filipinos by being timid and tentative in my decisions and actions,” he said.

“To the critics against the fight, your efforts will be better spent if you use the influence, moral authority and ascendancy of your organizations over your respective sectors to educate the people on the ills of illegal drugs.”

In a speech before leaving for Cambodia last May, Duterte insisted that “shabu” or metamphetamine hydrochloride fried the brain, and that UN human rights rapporteur Agnes Callamard and a psychology professor, Dr. Carl Hart, can go on “honeymoon” if they did not believe it. 

Callamard, a critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, recently tweeted a statement by Hart, who claimed there was no evidence that shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride led to violence or caused brain damage. 

Hart, chairman of Columbia University’s psychology department, made the claim during a forum on illegal drugs at the University of the Philippines last week.

Another top UN official, human rights commission chairman Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is also criticizing Duterte for the brutal drug war, urging him to let Callamard investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country. 

In the same speech, Duterte also vowed that drug peddlers “will not have the luxury of enjoying their greed and madness.”

“There is a jungle out there, there are beasts and vultures preying on the helpless, the innocent, the unsuspecting. I will not allow the ruin of the youth, disintegration of families and retrogression of communities forced by criminals whose greed for money is as insatiable as it is devoid of moral purpose,” he said. 

The Duterte administration has many times defended its drug war against critics, saying reported figures –from 7,000 to 9,000 — were overblown. With AFP

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