Duterte vows to con­tinue drug war, end com­mu­nist rebel talks

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte vowed yes­ter­day to con­tinue his bloody war on il­le­gal drugs de­spite in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic crit­i­cism and warned that of­fend­ers will end up in “jail or hell.” In his sec­ond state of the na­tion speech, Duterte also in­sisted he would not hold peace talks with com­mu­nist rebels be­cause of con­tin­u­ing at­tacks.

Se­cu­rity is­sues dom­i­nated his most im­por­tant annual speech, in­clud­ing a dis­as­trous two-month up­ris­ing by pro-Is­lamic State group mil­i­tants in a south­ern city, the worst cri­sis he has faced. Thou­sands of protesters marched out­side Con­gress de­mand­ing he de­liver on a range of prom­ises which mir­ror the di­verse bur­dens of his pres­i­dency, from pro­tect­ing hu­man rights to im­prov­ing in­ter­net speed. A look at the most se­ri­ous is­sues con­fronting Duterte as he en­ters his sec­ond year in power.

IS­LAMIC STATE-LINKED SIEGE

Two months af­ter more than 600 pro-Is­lamic State group mil­i­tants blasted their way into the south­ern city of Marawi, the mil­i­tary is still fight­ing the last gun­men fewer than 100, about 10 of them for­eign. Duterte told re­porters af­ter his speech yes­ter­day that the govern­ment coun­terof­fen­sive will not stop “un­til the last ter­ror­ist is taken out.” The cri­sis, how­ever, may not end soon, ac­cord­ing to Duterte, be­cause troops have to move care­fully to en­sure the safety of about 300 hostages he said are be­ing held by the gun­men. “I don’t want these in­no­cent peo­ple to be slaugh­tered,” he said.

Con­gress over­whelm­ingly voted on Satur­day to grant Duterte’s re­quest to ex­tend mar­tial law in the south to the end of the year to al­low Duterte to deal with the Marawi cri­sis and stamp out other ex­trem­ist groups across the south, some­thing five pres­i­dents be­fore him have failed to do. About half a mil­lion peo­ple have been dis­placed by the Marawi fight­ing. Some have threat­ened to march back to the still-be­sieged city to es­cape the squalor in over­crowded evac­u­a­tion camps in nearby towns. Re­build­ing Marawi will re­quire mas­sive funds and na­tional fo­cus and will be fraught with pit­falls. Amid the de­s­pair and gar­gan­tuan re­build­ing, it’s im­por­tant “to en­sure that ex­trem­ist teach­ings do not find fer­tile ground,” said Sid­ney Jones, direc­tor of the Jakarta-based In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis of Con­flict.

DRUG WAR

De­spite crit­i­cism and threats of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion, Duterte said his drug crack­down, which has left thou­sands of sus­pects dead, will go on. “Do not try to scare me with prison or the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice,” he said yes­ter­day. “I’m will­ing to go to prison for the rest of my life.” He re­it­er­ated his plea that Con­gress reim­pose the death penalty for drug of­fend­ers and oth­ers. “The fight will not stop un­til those who deal in (drugs) un­der­stand that they have to stop be­cause the al­ter­na­tives are ei­ther jail or hell,” Duterte said, to ap­plause from his na­tional po­lice chief, Ron­ald del Rosa, and other sup­port­ers in the au­di­ence.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, he promised to rid the coun­try of il­le­gal drugs in three to six months and re­peat­edly threat­ened traf­fick­ers with death. But he missed his dead­line and later de­clared he would fight the men­ace un­til his last day in of­fice. When then-U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, along with Euro­pean Union and UN rights of­fi­cials, raised alarm over the mount­ing death toll from the crack­down,

Duterte lashed out at them, telling Obama to “go to hell.” Duterte’s fiercest critic at home, Sen. Leila del Lima, was de­tained in Fe­bru­ary on drug charges she said were base­less. More than 5,200 sus­pects have died so far, in­clud­ing more than 3,000 in re­ported gun bat­tles with po­lice and more than 2,000 oth­ers in drug-re­lated at­tacks by mo­tor­cy­cle-rid­ing masked gun­men and other as­saults, po­lice said. Hu­man rights groups have re­ported a higher toll and called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Duterte’s pos­si­ble role in the vi­o­lence.

Duterte “has un­leashed a hu­man rights calamity on the Philip­pines in his first year in of­fice,” U.S.-based Hu­man Rights Watch said. In April, a lawyer filed a com­plaint of crimes against hu­man­ity against Duterte and other of­fi­cials in con­nec­tion with the drug killings be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. An im­peach­ment com­plaint against the pres­i­dent was dis­missed in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which is dom­i­nated by Duterte’s al­lies.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

More than a month into Duterte’s pres­i­dency, the Philip­pines won a land­mark ar­bi­tra­tion case be­fore a tri­bunal in The Hague that in­val­i­dated China’s mas­sive ter­ri­to­rial claims in the South China Sea un­der a 1982 UN mar­itime treaty. Aim­ing to turn around his coun­try’s frosty re­la­tions with China, Duterte re­fused to de­mand im­me­di­ate Chi­nese com­pli­ance with the rul­ing. He promised he would take it up with Bei­jing at some point. Con­fronting China, which has dis­missed the rul­ing as a sham, risks spark­ing an armed con­flict that the Philip­pines would surely lose, Duterte con­tended.

In a news con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, Duterte said he told Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping dur­ing a Bei­jing visit last year that the Philip­pines would drill for oil in dis­puted ar­eas it asserts as its own, and that Xi re­sponded that such an ac­tion would spark an armed con­fronta­tion. Na­tion­al­ists and crit­ics blasted Duterte for what they see as a sell­out to China. Af­ter the Xi meet­ing, China al­lowed Filipino fish­er­men to re­turn to Chi­nese-con­trolled Scar­bor­ough Shoal, where Chi­nese coast guard ships drove Filipinos away in 2012.

The Philip­pines had been the most vo­cal critic of China’s as­sertive be­hav­ior in the dis­puted waters un­til Duterte took power and reached out to Bei­jing, partly to se­cure fund­ing for in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects. His move has de-es­ca­lated ten­sions in the busy sea, but crit­ics have warned that Duterte’s friendly over­tures to China may erode the coun­try’s chances of de­mand­ing that China com­ply with the rul­ing and re­lin­quish its claims to waters re­garded as the Philip­pines’ exclusive eco­nomic zone.

MARAWI: Res­cuers carry a body bag con­tain­ing the re­mains of a vic­tim of Marawi siege dur­ing a mass burial at a pub­lic ceme­tery.

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