Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be walking back from his controversial crackdown on drugs in the country, claiming extrajudicial killings have been perpetrated by saboteurs rather than police who actually “follow the law.”
Duterte’s comments came this week, following the gruesome deaths of multiple teenagers – reportedly shot or stabbed by police – that rallied the country against the government’s drug policy and sparked condemnations from human rights groups.
“The apparent willingness of Philippine police to deliberately target children for execution marks an appalling new level of depravity in this so-called drug war,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement.
“These killings demonstrate that Duterte’s rejection of the rule of law has made all Filipinos potential ‘drug-war’ victims, no matter how young,” it added.
The Philippines president fired back at his critics Friday, saying his war on illegal drugs was being sabotaged by other groups.
He distanced himself from the death of 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman, who was found with around 30 stab wounds after being missing for two weeks. Duterte suggested someone else murdered the teenager as his government does not allow extrajudicial killings.
“Take a closer look at it. It is not our work. I do not allow it. We follow the law,” Duterte said at a public event, PhilStar reported. “There is somebody that is orchestrating something to destroy us. It is intentional. It is a sabotage.”
He added: “That’s illegal and I won’t tolerate it. We have to operate within the bounds of the law. Now if you are an authority, you have gone overboard.”
It was a change of tune from a president who last month – just two days after the murder of two teenagers – said police were allowed to kill “idiots” who violently resisted arrest, Fox News reported.
“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting. ... (If) he resists, and it is a violent one ... you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” he reportedly told a police chief.
In his speech, Duterte also mentioned another recently slain teenager: 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz, who he claims was a relative, PhilStar reported.
“Do you think I will allow the police to kill my relative? Watch out. Someone’s cooking out there somewhere to discredit us,” he said.
“I have never ordered the killing of children, even the enemy, on bended knees. That's not the rule of democracy ... I would never, ever condone or allow it," he said Wednesday, Rappler.com reported.
He also met with Arnaiz’s parents and promised that his government will go after the police officers who murdered their son.
"I will pursue the cases against the police and, if need be, they should go to jail," he told the parents.
Meanwhile, one of Duterte's sons is being investigated for an alleged role in a drug-smuggling operation.
Paolo Duterte and the husband of President Duterte’s daughter Sara are accused of involvement in a shipment of crystal methamphetamine worth $125.4 million from China to the Philippines, the BBC reported.
The son denied any involvement during his appearance at a Senate inquiry earlier this week, the BBC reported. He said the allegations were only “rumors and gossip” – all which were “baseless.”
President Duterte has promised to resign if any of his family members are caught being involved in the drug trade.