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Duterte on negative reports in international media: I don't care

President Rodrigo Duterte holds a press conference at the Presidential Guest house in Davao City on August 21. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PPD, file

MANILA, Philippines — Under fire for allegedly condoning extralegal killings, President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday that he does not care if he is being portrayed by international media in a negative light, saying he is just performing his duty.

“They said I am the most unpopular among the international press. I don’t care,” Duterte told reporters in Catbalogan, Samar.

“I have a problem to solve here in my country,” he said.

Malacañang has dared foreign journalists to visit the Philippines so they can see for themselves the extent of the drug menace in the country.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said visiting the country would help the foreign press understand the context of President Duterte’s tough pronouncements on narcotics and crime.

“The international media, as I have repeated time and again, should come to the Philippines and experience the life of the barangay (village) people who have so much drug problems,” Andanar told reporters on the sidelines of the Japan-ASEAN Media Forum in Mandaluyong.

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“It’s not fair for just anybody to conclude about extrajudicial killings, that there’s so much dead without even qualifying which one is dead because of authorized police operation, which ones were killed because of a gang war or regular murders,” he added.

“It’s also unfair for the government to receive such reports without the international media coming to the Philippines and really experiencing the life of those affected by drugs.”

Asked if he thinks the foreign press’ coverage of the anti-drug war was fair, Andanar said he is leaving it to the public to make an assessment.

“If I say that it’s unfair, it’s self-serving. Every Filipino who is on Facebook, who is on social media, who reads the papers should themselves decide if the international media has been fair in writing stories about the drug-related problems in the country,” he added.

Various foreign media outlets including BBC, CNN, The New York Times, Time, Forbes and Washington Post have reported about the recent spate of killings in the country that were attributed to Duterte’s crackdown on drugs.

Even some participants of the Japan-ASEAN Media Forum believe that the reports about the killings could put the Philippines in a bad light.

Alongside this development, there have been posts on social media discrediting the press for what some Duterte supporters see as an attempt to discredit the president. Netizens have been calling the media biased and have alleged that media companies are paid to write negative stories about the president and his war on drugs.

One influencer has tagged the media as "presstitutes" for allegedly being paid off.  

RELATED: Andanar laments NYT's 'sad appreciation' of Duterte drug war

Andanar: Duterte told voters there would be bloodshed

Andanar, however, maintained that the president is just fulfilling a campaign promise that allowed him to achieve victory in the 2016 polls.

“It is the duty of the president to protect the general welfare of this people. He was elected with that platform. He already warned the electorate that if you vote for me, there will be bloodshed. If you don’t want bloodshed, don’t vote for me. But he was voted,” he said.

“It is important for international journalists to understand the context of the president. If you live in a slum of Manila where about 20 percent of barangays are drug-infested... when you live in society where you can be high for less than a quarter cents of a dollar, the country is in trouble.”

Duterte has repeatedly denied condoning extrajudicial killings but has been reminding law enforcers to shoot criminals if their lives are threatened. He has also assured policemen and soldiers that they would be given assistance if they face charges in connection with the anti-drug campaign.

When asked whether Duterte would mellow down on his tough talk, Andanar replied: “You cannot change the president.”

“This drug menace is pandemic already. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. When the system of government is not working for the good of the majority, you go to the courts. The case that should be solved in one year gets solved in 10 years. How do you solve this when the policies of the state no longer work? What do you do?” he added.

Andanar stressed that it is more important to protect the lives of the innocent civilians and victims of illegal drugs than drug lords. The government has drug watch lists although being on a watch list does not mean that one is a criminal, a determination that only a court of law can make. 

“Investigate the lives, the human rights of those who have been victimized by crimes due to illegal drugs. There are so many of them. Go back to them. Let’s not be one-sided,” he added.

Authorities claimed there are about 3.7 million drug dependents in the country. Close to 2,000 suspected drug personalities have been killed, about 700 of them in police operations. In a Senate hearing this month, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said that some of the deaths that were not because of police operations were considered drug-related because of cardboard signs near the bodies proclaiming the victims as drug pushers.

About 700,000 drug users have surrendered in a police campaign called "Oplan Tokhang", where people on the drugs watch lists are invited to swear before authorities that they will stay away from drugs.

Some of those who surrendered have ended up dead either in police operations or, the government says, by the hands of drug syndicates.

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