Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Duterte: Po­lit­i­cal ri­val a ‘rob­ber’ and ‘im­moral woman’

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Philip­pines’ fiery new pres­i­dent trig­gered a war of words that has shocked many Filipinos af­ter he pub­licly ac­cused a fe­male sen­a­tor of be­ing an “im­moral woman”. Ro­drigo Duterte lashed out at Sen­a­tor Leila de Lima, who is con­duct­ing an in­quiry into the sud­den surge of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings co­in­cid­ing with the pres­i­dent’s new war on drugs. In a speech on Wed­nes­day, Duterte de­nounced de Lima in starkly per­sonal terms.

Speak­ing to po­lice of­fi­cers and dig­ni­taries, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Fidel Ramos and Chi­nese Am­bas­sador Zhao Jian­hua, on Wed­nes­day at a cer­e­mony mark­ing the 115th an­niver­sary of the Po­lice Ser­vice, Duterte called Sen­a­tor Leila de Lima an “im­moral woman” and al­leged that she used her driver -- also her lover, Duterte said -- to col­lect drug pay­offs on her be­half.

He called de Lima, one of his big­gest crit­ics, a “rob­ber” who was us­ing her driver to col­lect drug money dur­ing May’s elec­tion cam­paign.

“In fair­ness, I would never say here that the driver gave the money to her. But by the looks of her she has it,” he said. “Here is an im­moral woman fronting, the wife of the driver was con­cerned,” he al­leged. “Here is a woman who funded the house of her lover.”

While he did not re­fer to de Lima by name in that ad­dress, he later con­firmed dur­ing a speech at Manila’s air­port that he was in­deed re­fer­ring to the law­maker.

De Lima told re­porters that she found his com­ments to be “foul” and that they amounted to char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion.

“We are both pro­fes­sion­als, the pres­i­dent and I . . . I hope he doesn’t re­sort to those foul means. To me, that’s very foul,” lo­cal me­dia re­ports her say­ing, days be­fore Se­nate hear­ings on Duterte’s war on drugs are set to be­gin.

“A lot of bleed­ing hearts, in­clud­ing sen­a­tors of the repub­lic, are com­plain­ing about the death rate in the fight against drugs,” Duterte said in the speech at Camp Crame, the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice head­quar­ters, in Que­zon City on the out­skirts of Manila.

He re­it­er­ated that his of­fi­cers had the right to use deadly force in self-de­fense.

“If the re­sis­tance is vi­o­lent thereby plac­ing your life in jeopardy, shoot and shoot him dead. Can I be more clear than that?”

On Thurs­day, de Lima added in a state­ment that the at­tack from the “high­est of­fi­cial of the land” had left her feel­ing pow­er­less.

“No one has ever been at­tacked in such a man­ner by no less than the high­est of­fi­cial of the land, un­til now,” the state­ment reads.

“How does one de­fend one­self, when the at­tacker is im­mune from suit, and has all the back­ing of ex­ec­u­tive power to sup­port him in his per­sonal at­tack?”

De Lima has long been an op­po­nent of Duterte, and as head of the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights un­der the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion, at­tempted to tie Duterte to in­volve­ment in the in­fa­mous Davao Death Squad, a para­mil­i­tary vig­i­lante or­ga­ni­za­tion in his home­town of Davao, where he served as mayor for over two decades.

The Philip­pine Daily In­quirer’s “Kill List”, re­garded as one of the most ac­cu­rate records of the killings of sus­pected drug deal­ers in po­lice en­gage­ments and by vig­i­lantes, recorded the deaths of 693 peo­ple sus­pected of drug crimes be­tween June 30, the day Duterte as­sumed of­fice, and Au­gust 15.

De Lima also called Duterte’s re­cent ac­tions and state­ments, “use and abuse of power” and vowed to con­tinue the se­nate hear­ings to pro­tect in­no­cent vic­tims of ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings and help strengthen the rule of law.

De Lima has sum­moned Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice Chief, Direc­tor-Gen­eral Ron­ald “Bato” de la Rosa -- a long­time ally of the pres­i­dent -- along with hu­man rights groups, lawyers and fam­i­lies of vic­tims to tes­tify.

A state­ment from the pres­i­dent’s of­fice said that he “has taken um­brage with de Lima’s ap­proach, of not only tak­ing the moral high ground with re­gard to drug-re­lated deaths, but her as­sump­tions that said deaths are di­rectly at­trib­ut­able to (the) war on drugs,” and said that his op­po­nent was us­ing the sit­u­a­tion to “grand­stand”.

A pres­i­den­tial spokesman also added that the at­tack should not be con­strued as a warn­ing against those who ques­tion the govern­ment’s an­tidrug cam­paign.

Pres­i­dent Duterte has not held back with words cho­sen to de­scribe his crit­ics.

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