UN rights chief urges Philippines to probe president for murder

GENEVA: The UN rights chief urged the Philippines yesterday to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for murder, after he boasted that he in the past had personally killed suspected criminals.  Duterte said in a speech last week that when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao, where he served three terms between 1988 and 2016, he personally killed people to set an example for police. He made the comments in a speech to businessmen as he discussed his campaign to eradicate illegal drugs, which has seen police and unknown assailants kill thousands of people since he became president on June 30.

“The Philippines judicial authorities must demonstrate their commitment to upholding the rule of law and their independence from the executive by launching a murder investigation,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “The killings committed by Mr Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder,” he said. “It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer,” he insisted.

Duterte has said that as newly elected mayor of Davao, he and several local policemen ambushed a group of suspected kidnappers shortly after the gang collected ransom from the parents of the released hostage, a local teenage girl. “Maybe my bullets killed them, maybe not, but after the (firefight) they were all dead,” he said. He meanwhile told the BBC on Friday that he had personally killed “about three people” during his term as mayor.

Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre insisted that the president had not violated any law. “If the suspect fought back, he must have been forced to kill him,” Aguirre told reporters last week. But Zeid was adamant, warning that the acts clearly violated the Philippine constitution. “The killings described by President Duterte also violate international law, including the right to life … and innocence until proven guilty,” he said. The UN rights chief’s statement also decried the “environment of alarming impunity and violence” created by Duterte’s deadly campaign to eradicate illegal drugs. According to the UN, nearly 6,100 people had been killed since Duterte took office in late June.

China offers guns for drug war   
Meanwhile, China has offered the Philippines guns and equipment worth $14 million to wage its war on drugs and combat terrorism, Manila’s defense minister said yesterday, as ties improve under President Rodrigo Duterte. Beijing has publicly backed the controversial campaign, which has left 5,300 people dead in less than six months and drawn criticism from the United Nations and the United States, Manila’s ally.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the latest offer came from Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua who met him and Duterte on Monday.  “(The ambassador) told the president: ‘I know your problems in terrorism and in drugs so we would like to help you,'” Lorenzana told reporters. The Chinese embassy did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Lorenzana said the Philippines might use the $14 million grant to acquire small arms, fast boats or night-vision goggles, adding the deal would be finalised before year-end. China also offered long-term soft loans worth $500 million which the Philippines would get next year to fight illegal drugs and terrorism, Lorenzana added. Duterte, 71, launched an unprecedented anti-crime crackdown after winning May elections on a pledge to eradicate drugs by killing tens of thousands of criminals.

Despite their conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, Duterte has meanwhile sought warmer relations with Beijing. He has repeatedly credited China for offering to supply the Philippines with arms and aid under generous terms.  In contrast, he has criticized a US decision to defer action on hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed development aid, as well as to block the sale of rifles to Manila over human rights concerns.

“I do not need your assistance,” Duterte said in a speech Monday with the US envoy in attendance. “China is going to release to me 50 billion. Go home, I do not need your aid,” he added without specifying the currency.  Lorenzana said his aides would visit China next year to inspect the weapons on offer.  He added China was also spending on a drug rehabilitation centre in the Philippines following the inauguration of a major facility in October funded by a Chinese businessman.  – Agencies

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