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President’s remarks:  Hyperbole Or Policy?

President’s remarks:  Hyperbole Or Policy?

As reported on Rappler on 6/16/21.  Original article titled “Find these people and kill them’: ICC prosecutor’s laundry list of Duterte’s drug war remarks” found HERE.


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I’ll be peppering my articles with thoughts and questions.  These are not intended to impugn in any way, but rather give an outside train of thought.  In other words, no death threats, no lawsuits please.

Rather than buy into Malacañang’s insistence that Duterte’s kill threats are mere rhetoric, ICC’s Fatou Bensouda says these ‘indicate a state policy to attack civilians

Here we go….right into the meat of it.  Grab the popcorn and let’s see how this develops…

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesmen have called his profusion of threats to kill drug suspects merely expressions of extreme frustration or his hardline stance on crime.


How frustrated is frustrated enough to not pay attention to the fact that other people are listening?  More importantly, do people vote for expressions of frustration, or do they vote for words of action?


But International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosector Fatou Bensouda agreed with administration critics: Duterte’s threats point to a state policy to kill suspects before their alleged crimes can be prosecuted under the justice system.

Fun fact:  The Philippines cyber libel law states that it’s not what the intention of what was said that matters in court, but rather how it was perceived by others, especially an individual or organization.  So, would that cover a president’s “expressions of frustration”?  Lots of people could perceive it as an order to kill.


In her request to the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to conduct a formal investigation into Duterte’s drug war, Bensouda treated Duterte’s public remarks as evidence that his government likely carried out crimes against humanity in the enforcement of the anti-drug campaign.

“The plethora of public statements made by Duterte and other Philippine government officials encouraging, supporting and, in certain instances, urging the public to kill suspected drug users and dealers also indicate a State policy to attack civilians,” she wrote on page 45 of the document.

She’s got a point here.  Early on, Duterte said “If you see someone you think is doing drugs, and there’s not a cop around, get your gun and do it yourself.”  That’s not an expression of frustration.  It’s a directive to the general public.

Public remarks from mayorship to presidency

Bensouda traced Duterte’s kill threats from his time as mayor, the 2016 presidential campaign, and the weeks before he assumed the presidency.

Some of the remarks that stood out for the ICC prosecutor were Duterte’s warnings that “100,000” criminal suspects would be killed on his watch and his proposal to kill “five criminals a week.”

“When I become president, I’ll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them” was one of the remarks the ICC document quoted in full, taken from a Reuters news report dated May 13, 2016, or just a few days after Duterte won the elections.

Let’s not forget the line about making Manila Bay “red with the blood of criminals”, which in itself is a foreshadowing of a disregard for human rights and due process.

Bensouda also noted Duterte’s calls to violence as president, particularly his appeal to Filipinos, in no less than his inaugural address, to kill drug addicts they know, and his September 2016 declaration that he would be “happy” to “slaughter” three million drug addicts.

The ICC prosecutor highlighted the fact that Duterte made many of these kill threats in front of soldiers and police, and that he made clear orders that they kill drug suspects.

One example is a speech in front of soldiers of the 10th Infantry Division in Compostela Valley, where Duterte said promotions waited for law enforcers who would “massacre” suspects.

Mag-massacre kayo ng isang daan, isang daan din kayo, eh di pardon lahat kayo (Massacre 100 people, since you’re also 100, I’ll pardon all of you) – restore to full political and civil rights plus a promotion to boot,” Duterte said then.

Bensouda took seriously Duterte’s August 2016 “shoot-to-kill” order against “narcopoliticians,” or politicians included in his list of persons colluding with drug traffickers.

Adding to the impression that his government supported killings, said Bensouda, were Duterte’s remarks appearing to shield abusive police from accountability.

She mentioned specifically Duterte’s promise to protect cops involved in the slay of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., who was killed in his jail cell in what the National Bureau of Investigation concluded was a “rubout.”

And they did get away with it. Lots of tapping of the hands on that one.  And not once did Duterte really step up to demand accountability for that.

Echoed by other Philippine officials

The ICC official also noted that the President’s violent rhetoric was being echoed by other high-ranking government officials. She specifically mentioned former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and his February 2017 remark that drug suspects and criminals were “not humanity.”

These public remarks appearing to condone and encourage killings are just one of the many facets of the Duterte presidency that convinced Bensouda that there is basis to begin an investigation.

She also pointed to a consistent modus operandi in killings related to the drug war: the apparent participation of police and other state forces, consistent reports from eyewitnesses of abuses in police operations, and the failure of the government to prosecute perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.

Malacañang, meanwhile, slammed Bensouda’s request to investigate Duterte as “politically-motivated” and based on “hearsay” proffered by the President’s “enemies.”

And they did get away with it. Lots of tapping of the hands on that one.  And not once did Duterte really step up to demand accountability for that.

Here’s the thing…if you’re innocent, you welcome the investigation because the exhonoration is pure gold.  Nothing wins elections like vindication of the wrongfully accused.  But when you resist and fight it so hard, it only makes you seem more and more guilty.  If you want to believe that Duterte did nothing wrong, and all these accusations are “politically motivated”, you have to at least admit that it’s just bad optics to fight it so much.  In cases like these, it seems sovereignty is just an excuse

Bensouda based much of her report on interviews with eyewitnesses and other sources, reports by civil society groups, and news articles. – Rappler.com


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