'I killed because I felt she wanted it,' Duterte says at Arroyo testimonial dinner

'I killed because I felt she wanted it,' Duterte says at Arroyo testimonial dinner
President Rodrigo Duterte talks to House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III during the Government Owned and Controlled Corporation Day at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on Aug. 15, 2018.
The STAR / KJ Rosales, File

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his off-color remarks, told lawmakers and politicians that he had killed people because he felt Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wanted him to during her presidency.

The remarks, said at a testimonial dinner for Arroyo on Tuesday evening, were met with laughter by the president's audience.

Duterte was all praises for the former chief executive and House leader, calling her “a true living icon in Philippine politics and an embodiment of strong political will.”

“Madam President, we raise our glasses tonight for the invaluable contributions that you have made as a public servant. May your legacy shine through and inspire millions of Filipinos as we move forward in realizing our dream of building a better and more prosperous Philippines for all,” Duterte said.

'Of course, I didn't kill anyone on her orders'

But before he ended his speech, Duterte recalled the time when he—as Davao City mayor— “worked” for Arroyo.

“Of course, wala akong pinatay na tao na utos niya. Pinatay ko na lang kasi feeling ko gusto niya,” Duterte said, drawing laughter from the crowd of legislators.

(Of course, I didn’t kill under her direct orders. I just killed because I felt like she wanted it.)

Duterte has been accused of being involved in the so-called "Davao Death Squad," a vigilante group that is said to have summarily executed people in Davao City and other cities in Mindanao.

Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, visited the Philippines in 2008 to look into reports of EJKs, including vigilante killings in Davao City attributed to the "Davao Death Squad."

"[I]t has become a polite euphemism to refer vaguely to 'vigilante groups' when accounting for the shocking predictability with which criminals, gang members, and street children are extrajudicially executed. One fact points very strongly to the officially-sanctioned character of these killings: No one involved covers his face," Alston wrote in his report on the visit.

"The men who warn mothers that their children will be the next to die unless they make themselves scarce turn up on doorsteps undisguised. The men who gun down or, and this is becoming more common, knife children in the streets almost never cover their faces. In fact, for these killers to wear "bonnets" is so nearly unheard of that the witnesses I interviewed did not think to mention the fact until I asked," he also wrote.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch said in a report on the killings that "the failure to dismantle the Davao Death Squad and other similar groups, prosecute those responsible, and bring justice to the families of victims lies not only with local authorities."

"The administration of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has largely turned a blind eye to the killing spree in Davao City and elsewhere," it also wrote, adding "the continued death squad operation reflects an official mindset in which the ends are seen as justifying the means." 

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch at the time, also said: "In the face of evidence pointing to local government involvement in these murders, President Arroyo's continued silence could be seen as tacit acceptance of death squad killings."

Malacañang often explains Duterte’s controversial statements as jokes, noting even the president is entitled to cracking one now and then.

Sought for comment, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan said on Wednesday: "Both of them are murderers and they both deserve to be accountable for their crimes."

Arroyo thanks Duterte for plunder acquittal

At the same event, Arroyo thanked Duterte for “providing the atmosphere” that led to her acquittal from plunder charges.

“Most of all, I thank you that when you became president, you provided the atmosphere in which the court had the freedom to acquit me of the trumped-up charges of my successor and your predecessor, so that the court voted 11-4 in my favor, including half of those who were appointed by my successor,” Arroyo said.

In July 2016, barely a month after Duterte became president, the Supreme Court acquitted Arroyo of plunder over the alleged misuse of funds of the state-run Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

The Supreme Court ruling allowed Arroyo to walk free after nearly four years of hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial and Medical Center.

She was arrested in October 2012 during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party, the administration party at the time.

Arroyo, however, said her sole regret in her relationship with Duterte was that he had found her “difficult to deal with.”

“It was never my intention to be difficult with you,” she said. — Gaea Katreena Cabico


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