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Duterte decries UN's 'attribution' of killings to gov't

In this Aug. 11, 2016 file photo, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella answers questions of reporters at a press briefing at Malacañnan. PPD/Robinson Niñal

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang denounced on Friday reports and observations, particularly those of the United Nations, that it said attributed the slew of recent deaths to the government.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said President Rodrigo Duterte has not made extrajudicial killings a policy of his administration.

"The president... decries the attribution of killings to the Philippine government. This is simply unfair, especially to the hardworking men and women in uniform who risk their lives and limbs to win the war against drugs," Abella said in a statement.

The Palace official also deemed the observations "alarming."

"What is more alarming than the the pandemic use and trade of illegal drugs in the Philippines is the seeming incomprehension by local and international observers," he said.

He said government's concern is the general safety and security of citizens and has even led a cleaning up of ranks of the police force.

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Abella's statement was a reaction to the United Nations' latest statement, with UN special rapporteur on summary executions Agnes Callamard noting that Duterte was reported as promising impunity for such killings and bounties for those who turn in drug dealers "dead or alive."

"Directives of this nature are irresponsible in the extreme and amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law. It is effectively a license to kill," Callamard said.

"Claims to fight the illicit drug trade do not absolve the government from its international legal obligations and do not shield state actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings," Callamard stressed.

Callamard and Dainius Pūras, another UN special rapporteur, did not specifically blame Duterte or the government for the killings in a statement posted on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. They did, however, remind the government that it has "a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offenses or not."

READ: UN urges government: Stop extrajudicial killings

Earlier this month, Duterte issued a "shoot-to-kill" order against politicians allegedly linked to the illegal drug market, saying it was in line with the policy of maintaining law and order.

“My order is shoot to kill. I don’t care about human rights. Believe me. I don’t five a s**t about what they will say. This war is against drugs and we have a crisis,” he added.

Matter of 'national security'

Abella said Duterte is approaching the drug problem as a "national security issue" he promised to destroy while on the campaign trail.

He said that while there were some deaths, thousands of alleged drug-dependents have surrendered as a result of the anti-drug policy.

"In his pursuit to staunch the flood of drugs from nearby countries and entrenched manufacturers in key cities and locations, the president framed the menace in terms of war, which resulted in a number of deaths,  but even more surprisingly, in the surrender of hundreds of thousands of users," Abella said.

He also cited government reports that the killings were not by state forces but by vigilante groups and actors in the illegal drug trade.

"The president has said, that a number may have been 'salvaged' or killed by vigilantes, or by mistake and therefore has tasked the (National Police Commission) to investigate the ranks of the national police. The nature of a number of deaths though imply internecine, or organizational killings within the drug trade," Abella added.

The Philippine National Police reported yesterday that over 1,600 drug suspects have been killed since Duterte assumed power, with 665 attributed to actual PNP operations and the rest to vigilantes. — Camille Diola

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