While President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed gratitude to Washington for its Covid-19 vaccine donations, he has bluntly told the US State Department to keep its hands off the Philippines’ anti-narcotics drive.
In a public address aired late Monday and early Tuesday, the President said that Washington should be careful of whatever it was “planning to do” after some American senators urged US President Joe Biden to condemn alleged human rights violations in the country.
“I’d like to say something about the State Department,” he said while presenting the accomplishments of his anti-illegal drug campaign. “Be careful. Be careful of what you are planning or doing there because you yourself, your country, is guilty also of so many violations of human rights.”
A visibly furious Mr. Duterte also took a swipe at the critics of his drug war as he reiterated that he would rather be dead than be persecuted and tried in a foreign court.
“If you can get me, you can bring me there in The Netherlands — dead. You will have a carcass, he said. “I won’t go there alive.”
Lives at risk
Duterte maintained that Filipinos are benefiting from his war on drugs as he recognized the achievements of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in their recent anti-narcotics operations.
The President added that he even put his and his family’s lives at risk to launch the drug war for the sake of the public.
“Let’s assume that the accusations of the human rights groups were true. Son of a b*tch. Who benefitted from that? Me? My family? Do you think they benefited from all the deaths? It was you and your children! The nation benefited from the drug war,” he said.
“And who was in danger? Me, my family. They will all retaliate. And I am not a millionaire to have a squad that can guard me at the back. I am the one who has a problem now. It’s me,” Duterte added.
At press time, neither Washington nor the US State Department has commented on the President’s remarks.
If you can get me, you can bring me there in The Netherlands — dead. You will have a carcass.
His apparent anger may have stemmed from the call made by 11 Democrat senators allied with the Biden administration to condemn the alleged “continuing pattern of human rights violations” under Duterte’s term.
In a 26 July letter sent to US State Secretary Antony Blinken, the lawmakers raised concerns over the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly on the administration’s alleged brutal anti-narcotics drive and attacks against opposition figures, journalists, and activists.
They also expressed concern over the “red-tagging” of individuals and groups “falsely accused of terrorism and communism to stifle criticism and freedom of expression.”
“The State Department should condemn the aforementioned abuses at the highest levels in our diplomatic engagements with Philippine government representatives, as well as publicly,” they said.
“We urge the Biden administration to stand with the people of the Philippines as they continue to fight for their universal human rights,” the senators added.
The State Department is an executive department of the US federal government responsible for the nation’s foreign policy and international relations.
More than 6,000 people had been killed in over 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to official data. Human rights groups say the fatalities could be several times higher.
Let’s just give and take. We thanked them and I gave them a concession. I conceded the continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement, in gratitude.
Duterte has refused to submit to the inquiry of the International Criminal Court. In 2019, he withdrew the Philippines from the court after it launched a preliminary examination into the alleged crimes against humanity committed during his war on drugs.
Meanwhile, Duterte expressed his gratitude to the Biden administration for donating an additional three million doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, seen to greatly help the government’s immunization drive amid the presence of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Grateful for vax
“We are grateful. I’d like to thank the President of the United States, Joe Biden, the government and the people of America for not forgetting us,” he said.
“Do not forget us because we share the same outlook in geopolitics here, especially in Southeast Asia,” the President added.
Duterte himself led the arrival ceremonies at the Villamor Airbase on Tuesday for the US’s donated vaccine shots.
Washington donated the vaccines through the COVAX vaccine-sharing program led by the World Health Organization and GAVI alliance.
The Philippines also received over three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the US earlier this month, on top of other jab donations from China and the United Kingdom.
In his televised address, Duterte also admitted that Covid-19 vaccine donations were among the reasons why he kept the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US.
“Let’s just give and take. We thanked them and I gave them a concession. I conceded the continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement, in gratitude,” he said.
It was the President’s first public appearance since the government announced on Friday that he had decided to recall his order to terminate the 22-year-old VFA.