Photo: Rodrigo Duterte addressing the press during his election campaign
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unhesitatingly admitted that he personally killed people when he was the Mayor of Davao – the southern city he ruled for nearly 20 years.
The president said he used to roam the streets of Davao City in his “big motorcycle” and used to “look for trouble and an opportunity to kill.” He was addressing a group of businessmen on Monday night in his Presidential palace, explaining his resolve to continue his war against drugs in spite of increasing international criticism against his methods of doing so.
“In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys (police) that if I can do it why can’t you,” Duterte said. “And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill,” he said.
Responding to criticism from human rights groups and from US President Barack Obama about his brutal tactics, Duterte said in English, “If they say that I am afraid to stop because of the human rights and guys from including Obama: Sorry, I am not about to do that,” the AFP and BBC reported on Wednesday.
This is not the first time the President has openly admitted to killing people. Even during his election campaign last year, he went on record promising to kill 100,000 criminals in his first six months in office and dump so many bodies in Manila Bay that the “fish will grow fat.”
Asked to respond to a report that he had killed 700 people, Duterte replied, “No, it is not 700, but 1,700.” In October, he compared himself to Adolf Hitler and said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts like Hitler had slaughtered three million Jews. He later apologized for the Hitler reference but said he was “emphatic” about wanting to kill the millions of addicts.
Photo: Body of an alleged drug addict
Only in September, a self-confessed Davao death squad member told a Senate hearing into the drug war that Duterte, when he was the Davao Mayor, personally gunned down a justice department agent and ordered murders of opponents. The confessed hit man Edgar Matobato said one of the victims was fed to a crocodile. Duterte’s supporters have denied the charge.
Horrified observers have noted how low the current day politicians all over the world can stoop to in terms of corruption and complete demolition of democratic practices and still win elections. Duterte is not an exception, they feel.
Rights groups have previously accused Duterte of running vigilante death squads in Davao that killed more than 1,000 suspected criminals. Since his election, police have reportedly killed 2,086 people in anti-drug operations. More than 3,000 others have been killed in unexplained circumstances, according to official figures.
Often masked assailants break into shanty homes and kill people who have been tagged as drug traffickers or drug users. Rights groups have warned of a breakdown in the rule of law with police and hired assassins operating with complete impunity.
Duterte has insisted that police are only killing in self-defense. But he has also said he will not allow any police to go to jail if they are found guilty of murder. According to BBC, he has even suggested that lawyers defending drug suspects might also be targeted.
In Philippines one out of five courts does not have a judge or prosecutor, clogging up trials and meaning cases can take anywhere from five to 15 years to be settled. The result is that “justice has become an illusion for Filipinos,” Carlos Budit, spokesperson for the Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend), told The Independent.
The New York Times reported in August that during his presidential campaign Duterte had said that if elected, he would deploy the police and the military in an all-out assault on criminal gangs.
“It is going to be bloody. I will use the military and the police to go out and arrest them, hunt for them. And if they will offer a violent resistance, and thereby placing the lives of the law enforcers and the military whom I would task for a job to do, I will simply say, ‘Kill them all and end the problem,” the NYT had quoted him as saying.