MANILA – Three United States senators have expressed concern over the rising death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, calling the Filipino leader’s crusade a “campaign of mass atrocities.”
In a letter to the US State Department, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Party senators Edward Markey and Christopher Coons noted the escalating number of deaths in Duterte’s drug war, his recent admission of personally killing criminals and vow to carry out more killings.
“Rather than address the systemic problems related to the country’s drug crisis, invest in treatment programs, or approach the epidemic with an emphasis on the health and well-being of the Philippine people, President Duterte has instead pledged to kill another 20,000 to 30,000 people, many simply because they suffer from a drug use disorder,” the senators said in the letter.
“The Philippine anti-drug movement known as Project Tokhan (sic) in fact appears to be a campaign of mass atrocities thinly disguised as a response to a public health emergency.”
The senators asked the US State Department to act on its request for information related to US law-enforcement assistance to the Philippines as well as Washington’s efforts, if there are, to remedy the drug problem in the Philippines.
The senators cited the Leahy Law, which was enacted to prohibit assistance to any unit of a foreign country’s security forces should credible information indicate that they have perpetrated gross human rights violations.
“The serious allegations of extrajudicial killings that have surfaced in the course of President Duterte’s war on drugs raise serious concerns about the legality and appropriateness of the $32 million in dedicated funds,” the senators said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged during his recent visit to Manila a $32-million funding for training and other law-enforcement assistance. The senators now want to scrutinize how these funds will be used in light of the developments in Duterte’s campaign.
“What is our process for tracking the use of US funds in the Philippines to ensure that none of our foreign assistance money dedicated to law enforcement activities is being used to support the extrajudicial killings or other human rights violations of Duterte’s campaign?” the senators asked the State Department.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in the crackdown of illegal narcotics during Duterte’s six months as president, a third by police and the rest still being investigated and widely assumed to be drugs-related murders.
Duterte has denied that his government is involved in extrajudicial killings, saying the police are carrying out legitimate operations that most of the time lead to the deaths of suspected drug criminals.
He has also lashed out at the US for supposedly threatening to cut aid to the Philippines because of his war on illegal drugs. He said the Philippines can live without US aid, since its newfound ally, China, is said to be ready to provide assistance. -- with Reuters