Rodrigo Duterte

Philippines: Britain sold spy gear as President Rodrigo Duterte waged deadly drug war

The UK government has also sold spyware to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain and Egypt

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 4:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 9:15pm

The British government sold nearly US$200,000 of hi-tech spying equipment to the Philippines, giving President Rodrigo Duterte the tools to hunt down and kill dealers and addicts as part of his brutal war on drugs.

The equipment purchased by Duterte’s government included IMSI-Catchers, which are used to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, and surveillance tools to monitor internet activity.

Duterte has admitted authorising the wiretapping of at least two mayors whom he accused of being “narcopoliticians”, including the Ozamiz city mayor, Reynaldo Parojinog.

Parojinog and 14 other people were killed in a police raid on his home last July.

The British Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the committees on arms export controls, accused the UK government of enabling Duterte’s violent hunt, “which makes us complicit in the deaths of thousands of Filipinos”.

He added: “This sad case shows that our arms export control regime is broken. The government is failing in its basic legal duty.”

The exports to the Philippines appear to be a violation of UK law, which states that the government must not “issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”.

The UK government has also sold spyware to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain and Egypt.

By July 2016, when the kit was sold, Duterte had already made several brazen statements about his intention to use all means necessary to brutally crack down on anyone associated with drugs.

Speaking at his final campaign rally in April 2016, he said: “Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out.

“Because I’d kill you, I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

By June 2016 human rights watchdogs had already expressed alarm that his anti-crime drive might lead to widespread rights violations, following comments by Duterte that “these sons of whores are destroying our children. I warn you, don’t go into that … because I will really kill you.”

The UK department for international trade said the “government takes its export responsibilities very seriously”.

Since Duterte became president, at least 12,000 people have died as part of the war on drugs, with many of the killings carried out by police officers.

The revelation that Britain was supplying Duterte with spying equipment comes just weeks after the international criminal court (ICC) announced it was looking into evidence that the president had committed crimes against humanity.

It also comes as US intelligence agencies in a report tagged the firebrand leader a threat to democracy in Southeast Asia,

The report, produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, places Duterte alongside Cambodian’s Hun Sen, the Rohingya crisis and Thailand’s military-backed constitution as threats to democracy.

“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime,” the report read, adding that Duterte has suggested he could suspend the constitution and declare a revolutionary government.

This is not the first time the United States has criticised Duterte, who is notorious for his defiance of international pressure.

Duterte was infuriated by expressions of concern by former President Barack Obama’s administration about drug-war killings in the Philippines.

“We view this declaration from no less than the intelligence department of the United States with some concern...,” Duterte presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Additional reporting by Reuters