Duterte lashes out at critics of drug war killings in the Philippines

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte walks between meetings at the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Jorge Silva - RTX2OBFQ

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GWEN IFILL: And staying with the president’s trip to Asia, we look at a flash point created with Mr. Obama by the new president of the Philippines.

It’s not only Rodrigo Duterte’s blunt, often profane style, but how those words have led to a mounting body count on the streets of his country.

William Brangham reports.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Rodrigo Duterte arrived at the ASEAN Summit in Laos with his staff in full-damage control mode. A day earlier, Duterte used a profanity about President Obama, warning him not to raise the recent mass killings of drug suspects in the Philippines.

MARTIN ANDANAR, Presidential Communications Secretary, Philippines: President Duterte explained that the press reports that the — President Obama would lecture him on extrajudicial killings led to his strong comments, which in turn elicited concern. He regrets that his remarks to the press have caused much controversy.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But the damage was done. The White House had already canceled a meeting between the presidents at the summit.

All of this centers on the new leader’s war on drugs. Since he took office at the end of June, more than 2,000 people have been killed by state police, and by vigilantes, in a sweeping crackdown.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE, Philippines: Plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets. Until the drug manufacturer is killed, we will continue, and I will continue.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In addition to the killings, hundreds of people have surrendered to authorities. Reactions in the Philippines sharply divided. Some Filipinos say they support the president’s efforts.

WOMAN (through translator): oh, yes, there are far fewer addicts now. He’s really good. Duterte is doing a good job. It’s really good for our country.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But there have also been protests against this wave of violence. Some came last week, when vigilantes accidentally killed a drug dealer’s 5-year-old granddaughter.

WOMAN (through translator): All of us want to eradicate illegal drugs, but it should be done through due process. The president should understand that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Many outside of the Philippines have expressed concerns as well, chief among the critics, the United States and the United Nations. Last month, U.N. human rights experts said that claiming you’re fighting illegal drugs doesn’t shield you from responsibility for illegal killings.

In response to the criticism, Duterte threatened to pull the Philippines out of the U.N.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: I do not want to insult you, but maybe we will just have to decide to separate from the United Nations.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And, today, after arriving at the summit, the Philippines president declared his country will not be cowed. It’s also clear that his often profane style isn’t going away. In addition to President Obama, he’s lashed out at Filipino judges and senators, Pope Francis, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Last month, he went after the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, who’d criticized him during the Philippines presidential campaign.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE (through translator): I had a fight with their ambassador, that gay son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). He annoys me. He was meddling in the elections, giving statements here and there. You weren’t supposed to do that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tomorrow, both Duterte and President Obama will attend a gala dinner at the ASEAN Summit. It’s unclear if they will speak to each other.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m William Brangham in Washington, D.C.

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