Rodrigo Duterte

Beijing backs Philippine President Duterte’s ruthless crackdown on drugs

Offer of cooperation comes after Duterte said he would ask China why many of its nationals were being arrested for illegal drugs in the Philippines

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 July, 2016, 2:18am

China has offered its support to the Philippines’ controversial drug crackdown pushed by new President Rodrigo Duterte, which has been slammed by rights groups for encouraging extrajudicial killings and vigilante justice.

“China fully understands that the Philippine government under the leadership of Rodrigo Duterte has taken it as a top priority in cracking down [on] drug-related crimes,” China’s embassy in Manila said in a statement.

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“China has expressed explicitly to the new administration China’s willingness for effective cooperation in this regard, and would like to work out a specific plan of action with the Philippine side.”

Duterte swept to power in May on a promise to clampdown on drugs, and police have since confirmed killing nearly 200 people in a two-month crime blitz. But major TV network ABS-CBN said it had recorded 408 “drug fatalities” between May 10 and July 15, based on police and media reports.

China has expressed explicitly to the new administration China’s willingness for effective cooperation
China’s embassy in Manila

There has been a surge in killings by anti-drug vigilantes who leave victims’ corpses on city streets wrapped in packaging tape with signs accusing them of being drug dealers.

Duterte this week said many of the unclaimed bodies of suspected drug criminals were Chinese nationals, and that he planned to ask China why so many of its nationals were being arrested for illegal drugs in the Philippines.

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“Why is it that most of the guys who come here do drugs, even inside jail?” he said.

The statement Tuesday from the Chinese embassy made no reference to the killings – which have prompted a backlash from domestic and international rights groups – only saying fighting drug-related crimes was a “shared responsibility of all countries in the world”.

It added: “The Chinese government has been firm and severe in drug control and in punishing all drug criminals in accordance with laws regardless of their nationalities.

Beijing is known to execute drug offenders and in recent years has put to death several Filipinos found guilty of smuggling narcotics into China.

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Four Hong Kong men were arrested last week on board a 50-metre fishing boat allegedly used to manufacture illegal substances, two miles off the coast of Zambales province, north-west of Manila.

Earlier this month a bullet-riddled body was found in a Manila slum with a sign on it that read: “I am a Chinese drug lord,” local police said.

The murder bore all the hallmarks of an extrajudicial killing, which would make it the first of Mr Duterte’s presidency.

With Duterte’s encouragement, police had already killed dozens of alleged or suspected drug traffickers in the time between his May 9 election victory and his inauguration on June 30.

Duterte has even targeted the national prison, where jailed drug kingpins control about a quarter of the local drug market from inside their cells.

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Police commandos on Wednesday were deployed at the New Bilibid Prison south of Manila to take over security from jail guards.

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) this week joined the chorus of groups criticising Duterte’s advocacy of killing.

The group reminded him that the Philippines had passed laws and signed international agreements binding it to work against police abuse, extra-judicial killings and the death penalty which Duterte hopes to restore to the country.

But human rights are not a concern in Duterte’s war on drugs, he said, as he vowed to ignore due process and compared himself to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

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“I will retire with the reputation of Idi Amin,” he said in a speech Sunday, referring to the late African ruler whose 1971 - 1979 regime was characterised by large-scale rights abuses that killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of Ugandans.

“I am not afraid of human rights (concerns.) I will not allow my country to go to the dogs,” he added, vowing to pardon all abuses committed by security forces.

In southern Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for more than 20 years, rights groups documented a total of 1,400 unsolved murders from 1998, most of them petty criminals and street-level drug peddlers. Duterte denies any involvement.