Philippines human rights groups condemn extrajudicial killings

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at the wake of a soldier killed in an encounter with communist rebels at a military Camp Panacan in Davao city, in southern Philippines August 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr - RTSLIJ7

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: In the Philippines, in the two months since President Rodrigo Duterte took office with a promised crackdown on illegal drugs, the national police say they have gunned down more than 700 suspected drug dealers and users who resisted arrest. More than 1,000 other police-involved killings are under investigation. The wave of extrajudicial killings has brought condemnation from human rights groups.

Joining me from San Francisco for some insight into the violence in the Philippines is Paul Henson, the North American bureau chief of The Filipino Channel.

Thanks for joining us.

So, are people in the Philippines who voted for Mr. Duterte now becoming concerned about the lack of due process?

PAUL HENSON, THE FILIPINO CHANNEL: There is a growing concern, Harry, but let me put it in context, first. I mean, President Duterte is one won the last elections by a margin of about six million over his strongest competitor. This is the population that is tired of criminality in the Philippines and that wants change.

I guess what people weren’t expecting were the methods that the Duterte government is willing to undertake in order to stamp out crime and corruption in the streets. There is growing concern right now that due process is being involved, that those suspected of being involved in the drug trade are not being respected in terms of their constitutional rights to due process. And there is also fear that innocent people may be involved in the killings.

And this collateral damage as well, one of the recent collateral damages was a 5-year-old girl who was gunned down by motorcycle-riding gunmen who were targeting her grandfather who was allegedly involved in drugs. So, there are innocent people being involved in this all-out campaign and that’s where the fear is coming from.

SREENIVASAN: Put it in context for an American context, how big is the drug problem in the Philippines?

HENSON: There’s been a recent study by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency that nine out of ten, that’s 9 2 percent of localities or villages in Metro Manila has drug-related cases. And nationwide, that’s one out of five localities. So, that is a very big chunk of the population of the Philippines.

There’s also been a study by the United Nations that the Philippines is number one in terms of the use of methamphetamine hydrochloride, the number one in East Asia. A lot of this problem is really boosted by poverty, as well as unemployment in the Philippines. And the bigger problem is that the drug money and corruption has seeped not just in to the grassroots level but also in law enforcement and among justice officials. So, it’s a problem of narco politics as well.

SREENIVASAN: You know, he famously went out and gave a national speech where he called out judges. He called out members of Congress and parliament and said, these are people that are associated with this. Has this crackdown actually nabbed some of the big fish, the kingpins that are bringing these drugs into the Philippines?

HENSON: That’s actually what the people are looking out for, because this number, the number of people being killed, that’s amounting to around 1,900 now in total, these are street criminals. These are petty pushers and drug users.

What the people want to see are more of the syndicate leaders, and the big bosses to be apprehended and put behind bars. That is what is sorely lacking still in this campaign.

SREENIVASAN: And what about the sort of civil society, how are they pushing back?

HENSON: Well, there’s been a big protest rally in the last two weeks, people are really concerned are taking out to the streets to air their grievances say that this extrajudicial executions are not right, even the vice president of the Philippines who comes from the opposing party has said that this is not right, that people should speak up and make their voices heard.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Paul Henson of the North American bureau chief of The Filipino Channel, joining us from San Francisco — thanks so much.

HENSON: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

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