Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has granted officers permission to kill “idiots” who violently resist arrest, and has tasked a controversial police chief with continuing his pursuit of suspects in the deadly war on drugs.
Duterte paused his speech at the Heroes’ Cemetery near Manila on Monday to address comments to Jovie Espenido, a police chief inspector who has come under fire from human rights groups for his work against drugs.
“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting… [If] he resists, and it is a violent one…you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” Duterte told Espenido, as quoted by Reuters.
He said, however, that “murder and homicide and unlawful killings” are not allowed and that officers must uphold the rule of law.
Espenido was condemned by human rights groups after several local chief executives were killed in police raids in areas where he was assigned. However, Duterte has praised his work in the controversial anti-drug campaign.
Duterte hailed Espenido’s efforts again on Monday, giving him a new assignment in the city of Iloilo after the police chief said he wanted to go after its mayor, who the Philippine president believes is involved in drug trafficking.
“He (Espenido) knows his law so he should replicate his exploits in other parts of the country. He wants to be assigned in Iloilo, I will assign him there,” Duterte told reporters, as quoted by ABS-CBN.
Duterte warned Iloilo Mayor Jed Mabilog to end his alleged drug involvement on Monday, ahead of Espenido’s deployment to the city.
“Truth be told, now while nothing is happening, you might want to end your drug connections,” Duterte said during a press conference, as quoted by Philippine news outlet Rappler.
“I’ll tell you again, mayor, dinadawit ka (you are being implicated). For the longest time, updated list, nandiyan ka (you’re on it),” Duterte warned.
He urged the mayor not to protect those involved in drug trafficking and not to call on police for favors, adding that such behavior would make him as bad as a drug lord.
Duterte then issued a warning for all government employees, adding that they are free to become drug lords and “earn billions,” but that they would die as a consequence.
“Just be a drug lord. You’ll earn billions. But in exchange, you’ll die. Let’s not kid around,” he said.
Duterte’s Monday statements come just two days after a funeral procession for a 17-year-old boy killed in a raid by anti-drug officers turned into a protest against the president’s war on drugs.
The teen, Kian Loyd Delos Santos, died after being dragged into an alley in Manila by plain-clothes policemen, where he was shot in the head and left next to a pigsty, according to witness accounts which seem to be corroborated by CCTV footage.
Police claim they acted in self-defense after the teen opened fire on them, while Duterte’s spokesman and justice minister have described the 17-year-old’s killing as an “isolated” incident.
Duterte’s war on drugs has come under fire from the UN, human rights organizations, and Western governments. In July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that security forces and “unidentified gunmen” have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers since July 1, 2016. Of those, at least 3,116 were killings by police, according to government data.
“That death toll also doesn’t include the victims that Duterte calls ‘collateral damage’ – children shot in the crossfire of anti-drug operations,” HRW wrote at the time. “The extraordinary brutality of the Duterte drug war is undeniable. Many of the victims are found in back alleys or street corners wrapped in packing tape, their bodies bullet-ridden or bearing stab wounds and other signs of torture.”
Earlier this month, Amnesty International said Duterte’s “lawless” war on drugs “appears to be plumbing new depths of barbarity, with police routinely gunning down suspects, violating the key right to life and completely flouting due process.”
Duterte, who took office in June 2016, previously said he would end the country’s drug problem in just six months or he would resign.
However, he admitted earlier this month that his campaign faces steep challenges, including a lack of equipment, difficult terrain and the brevity of his presidential term.