Already accused of carrying out 3,000 extrajudicial executions in his anti-drug crackdown since taking office in June, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte has now threatened to kill human rights activists who have the temerity to complain about it. In a speech at Manila's Malacañang Palace on Nov. 28, Duterte said those who accuse him of ordering the summary execution of drug users and low-level dealers should be blamed if the country's drug problem worsened—and suffer the same fate. Here's the quote, translated from Filipino: "The human rights [activists] said I ordered the killings. I told them 'OK. Let's stop. We'll let them [drug users] multiply so that when it's harvest time, more people will die. I will include you because you are the reason why their numbers swell."
Despite its garbled ambiguity (he is going to stop killing, and then kill those who called on him to stop?), this constitutes a pretty clear threat. The Philippines Inquirer, in reporting the quote, used the following lede: "Human rights advocates, beware. You might just be next in 'The Punisher’s' crosshairs."
For good measure, Duterte added, addressing those who have called for him to be tried at The Hague for breaching international law in his bloody crackdown: "You threaten me that you will jail me? International Criminal Court? Bullshit."
This is all too predictable behavior from Duterte, who has also threatened to "assassinate" journalists who report on his terror wave. The new verbal ejaculation is getting some attention, noted with appropriate outrage in Time magazine. Amnesty International Philippines said it is "appalled" by Duterte's comment. "This pronouncement is…inciting hate towards anyone who expresses dissent on his war against drugs," it said in a statement. The Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NAKPhilippines) said Duterte's words "can be interpreted as a declaration of an open season on human rights defenders. We condemn it in the strongest term possible."
Nobody seems to have picked up on his odd erference to the "harvest"—which is actually quite ominous. Some opium is grown in the Philippines, but it isn't a major producer. The country does, however, produce copious quantities of cannabis—especially in the southern island of Mindanao. Is Duterte really suggesting that cannabis kills—and justifying killing for cannabis?
Maddeningly, as a populist and "outsider," Duterte continues to enjoy broad support from the political left in the Philippines, which has only recently shown signs of wavering. Hopefully, he lost some good will from Philippine leftists with his outrageous stunt earlier this month of having the remains of the country's former right-wing dictator Ferdinand Marcos reburied at the national Cemetery of Heroes. Marcos' family had sought this for decades, and the move was approved by the Philippines' Supreme Court on Nov. 8—and promptly carried out on Duterte's orders. The late dictator's son, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, thanked Duterte for his "unwavering commitment" on this issue, Inquirer reported. This did spark much anger from survivors of the dictatorship, as BBC noted.
But few seem to have made the point that Duterte in his five months in office has jacked up a kill count already starting to rival that of Marcos in his more than 20 years in power.
And things only look set to escalate. Just one day after his inflammatory Malacañang speech, Duterte's motorcade was attacked by an improvised explosive device in the streets of Marawi, capital of Mindanao's Lanao del Sur province. Duterte was apparently not in the presidential convoy at the time, but nine of his security men were injured in the attack. The convoy was preparing for Duterte to personally tour the area, which was the scene of recent fighting between security forces and the so-called "Maute Group"—also known as the Islamic State of Lanao said to be a local affiliate of the global ISIS network.
The Maute Group is believed to be an ultra-hardline breakaway faction of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which has been repeatedly accused of profiting off the Mindanao cannabis trade to fund its insurgency.
Another warning sign that the Philippines are following Mexico and Colombia into nightmarish drug war dystopia.