The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte met in Manila on Aug. 8 with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and came away gloating that the new administration in Washington is unconcerned with his blood-drenched "war on drugs," that has left perhaps 8,000 dead since he took office just over a year ago. "Human rights, son of a bitch. Policemen and soldiers have died on me," he sneered to reporters at a press conference after the Tillerson meeting, adding an open threat: "Human rights—you go there and you might have a bomb dropped on your head."
That's no joke coming from the head of a regime that is already accused of killing journalists.
Duterte claimed that representatives of both the US and Australia "have considerably toned down" their criticisms of his human rights record. Duterte held back-to-back meetings with Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at his presidential palace during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum in Manila. He said the discussions with both men revolved "mostly" around counter-terrorism, and that human rights came up "only in passing."
Fortunately, not everyone has dropped the ball on human rights concerns in the Philippines. Just a week before the ASEAN meeting, a group of UN experts for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a press release urging the Philippine government to address reports of grave rights violations—including the murder of children by security forces.
"We are witnessing severe, multiple human rights violations, especially against indigenous peoples and human rights defenders," the statement stressed. "Children are not being spared and continue to be at high risk in a climate of prevailing violence. We are shocked by the increasing levels of violence, killings, intimidation and harassment being suffered by human rights defenders—including those protecting indigenous peoples, trade union organizers, farmers and their family members."
"Allegations of summary executions, including of children, are also on the rise," the statement further charged. "All these cases must be investigated thoroughly and perpetrators should be brought to justice."
Meanwhile, not for the first time, it looks like Duterte's security forces may have used drug war terror as cover to eliminate a political rival. A late-night raid in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao on July 31 left 15 people dead, including the mayor of Ozamiz City.
Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. and his daughter, deputy mayor Nova Echaves, were on a list Duterte published last year of more than 150 government officials he accused of having ties to the drug trade list. Now Parojinog and his wife are dead, and Echaves behind bars. Police raided the mayor's house ostensibly to search for illegal firearms, sparking a shoot-out with his bodyguards. Police said they seized assault rifles, cash and "suspected drugs" during the raid, the Associated Press reported.