Duterte murder boasts further strain U.S.-Philippine relations

Foreign Policy | Controversial president claims he gunned down three suspected criminals
by Angela Lu Fulton
Posted 12/19/16, 04:17 pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte admitted last week to personally killing three criminal suspects while he was mayor of Davao. The revelation, along with concerns over extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs, has increased tensions between the United States and the Philippines.

U.S. officials deferred a vote on an aid package for the Philippines, while Duterte threatened to end U.S.-Philippine joint combat exercises.

“Those comments are deeply troubling, and they certainly are at odds with the Philippine government’s stated commitment to due process and rule of law,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

At first, Duterte boasted about the killings to a group of business leaders on Dec. 12, recalling how he would patrol the city on a motorcycle “looking for a confrontation, so I could kill.” He said he did it to encourage his police officers to follow suit.

He then affirmed his account to reporters on Friday, showing no remorse for his actions.

“I killed about three of them,” he said. “I don’t know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies. It happened, and I cannot lie about it.”

He claimed the incident took place after kidnappers took a teenage girl hostage.

The U.S.-Philippine relationship has deteriorated since Duterte took office in June, with U.S. officials remaining critical of Duterte’s anti-drug war. More than 5,000 extrajudicial killings have taken place in less than six months. At the same time, Duterte has cozied up to China and Russia, praising them for not interfering with his policies.

A recent poll showed about 80 percent of Filipinos worry they or someone they know will be killed. But 85 percent of the same respondents said they were satisfied with Duterte’s so called law enforcement campaign.

The Philippines was slated to receive another U.S. aid package after its previous five-year, $434 million poverty reduction program ended in May. Laura Allen, a spokeswoman for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, said it would continue to monitor events in the Philippines before the next board review in March 2017. 

While the U.S. agency has not yet decided to scrap or approve the aid package, Duterte launched into an expletive-laden tirade Saturday, telling America to prepare for a repeal of the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows American forces to visit the Philippines for joint combat exercises. 

“You know, tit for tat … if you can do this, so [can] we. It ain’t one-way traffic,” Duterte said. “Bye-bye, America.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila said Washington would work closely with the Duterte administration to address its concerns. 

In response to Duterte’s claim that he personally killed suspected criminals, Rafendi Djamin of Amnesty International noted in a statement the events take “the meaning of ‘state-sanctioned’ violence to a whole new level. … By boasting about the blood on his own hands, President Duterte will further embolden police and vigilantes to blatantly violate laws and carry out more extrajudicial executions without fear of being held to account.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine and a part-time editor for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Angela resides in Taipei, Taiwan. Follow her on Twitter @angela818.

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