Unfazed by the criticism coming from the government of the United States, Malacañang on Friday, July 21 said the ‘real judge’ of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war is no one else but the Filipino people.
In a press conference hours after a U.S. Congress hearing on the Philippines’ anti-illegal drug campaign, Duterte’s spokesperson, Ernesto Abella, said that only Filipinos could evaluate whether the administration’s crackdown on narcotics is a success or a failure.
“As the President [Duterte] would say, the real judge of the actions of the administration would be not so much these opinions, but people actually, the people of the Philippines, the citizens here who find that… it’s safer in the streets, the crime index has dropped,” Abella said.
On Thursday, July 20, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives conducted an inquiry into Duterte’s anti-illegal drug policy.
During the hearing, several U.S. lawmakers and representatives of human rights groups slammed the alleged killings and human rights abuses linked to the crackdown.
But amid the backlash, Malacañang said it believes the majority of the Filipino people acknowledge the “better side” of the campaign.
“The real judge of the situation would be the people and who have given him overwhelming support and overwhelming approval. And so, we trust that the people understand that they are really getting the better side of this deal,” Abella added.
In a separate statement, the Philippines’ top diplomat said he has ordered the submission of documents earlier presented before the United Nations “for those who want to be fair, for those who are real human rights advocates who have due process.”
“I have instructed our post in the U.S. to submit to them the Universal Periodic Review that we submitted to the UN Human Rights Council so that our friends in the U.S. Senate would not be fooled by advocates who were politicizing human rights,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told ANC.
During the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the status of the human rights record in the country last May, the Philippine delegation, co-led by then-Senator Cayetano, refuted the alleged existence of state-sponsored killings of drug suspects and criminals in the country, asserting the government’s high regard for human rights and rule of law.
Cayetano reaffirmed that the U.S. Congress did not ask the Duterte administration to send any representatives to its drug war hearing, which aims “to determine the funds that they will give to the Philippines or their attitude towards the Philippines.”
The top diplomat, however, maintained that Washington has no right to summon a delegation from Manila to attend the hearing.
‘No regard for human rights’
During the hearing on Thursday, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts was among the lawmakers who heavily criticized Duterte’s drug war.
“Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights,” said McGovern, who is also the co-chair of the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Pointing out the “explosion of killings” over the past year, the lawmaker stressed that Duterte’s statements “inciting and justifying” these murders “have rightly drawn attention and indignation.”
He insisted that the U.S. government “cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring.”
He went on to say, “No other country — I repeat that, ‘no other country’ — comes to mind where people are assassinated on the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing.”
Also “troubled” by Duterte’ drug war was Rep. Jackie Speier of California’s 14th district.
“We need to call this deranged policy out for its state-sanctioned vigilantism that contravenes the rule of law and damages the international standing of the Philippines,” Speier said.
She also slammed U.S. President Trump for previously inviting Duterte to visit the White House.
“Mr Duterte’s murderous extrajudicial campaign has drawn condemnation from around the world – except from President Trump, who has had a ‘very friendly’ conversation with the man who once said, ‘I don’t care about human rights,’ and who called President Obama a ‘son of a whore’ for speaking out against atrocities President Duterte has committed against his own people,” she said.
Speier further emphasized that it is “critical” that both the U.S. Congress and Trump administration “condemn President Duterte’s unacceptable human rights abuses in the strongest possible terms and to take concrete action to ensure that the United States is not enabling these practices.”
In its hearing, the U.S. Congress invited panelists to “analyze the implementation of the ‘war on drugs’ and its consequences for the human rights situation in the Philippines.”
Among the panelists invited include In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (I-DEFEND) Philippines spokesperson Ellecer Carlos, Amnesty International Senior Crisis Advisor Matthew Wells, and Human Rights Watch Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kine.
A survivor of an attempted extrajudicial killing in the Philippines also submitted a statement before the commission.
“This case is a test for the Philippine judicial system and we will follow its progress with interest,” McGovern said.
Efren Morillo, 29, is the lone survivor of five men shot by police in an alleged execution during a “tokhang” (drug war) operation on August 21 of last year in Quezon City.
In a statement, he recounted how his friends were killed by policemen and how he survived by pretending to be dead after he was shot in the chest.
“The whole time, the armed men kept accusing the five of us of being involved in illegal drugs. We piteously protested that we are innocent of any crime or wrongdoing,” Morillo said.
According to him, the armed men, who were not able to find any contraband, insisted that a cigarette lighter and some shiny paper they found proved their involvement in drugs.
“They alleged that a gunfight ensued between them and me and my companions. They accused us of being caught in the act of using drugs, and being notorious drug suspects and even hold uppers,” Morillo said.
In February, Morillo and the families of the four slain men filed a petition before the Philippine Supreme Court, marking the first legal challenge against the Duterte’s drug war.
“I survived, but thousands did not. I owe it to them to speak out and join the quest for full justice for all the victims of the killings,” he added.
In defense, Duterte said whoever expects him to fly in U.S. “must be dreaming.”
“Somebody asked me if I’m going to America. Right? What was my response? You guys must be dreaming,” the president remarked.
In a chance interview on Friday, July 21, Duterte said he has no plans to ever set foot in the U.S. again, calling it a ‘lousy’ country.
“There will never be a time that I will go to America during my term or even thereafter,” Duterte told reporters in Davao City.
He further suggested that the U.S. government to start investigating incidents of human rights violations in its own country.
“I’ve seen America and it’s lousy… it would be good for the U.S. Congress to start with their own investigation of their own violations of the so many civilians killed in the prosecution of the wars in the Middle East,” he said.