MANILA - Malacañang insists that the administration's war on drugs is not targeting the poor after an official of an international rights watchdog said President Rodrigo Duterte has "finally acknowledged" the drive has victimized mostly the poor.
"The war on drugs is not targeted at any particular segment of society," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement Monday.
However, Abella said, the most prevalent drug in the Philippines is shabu, a local slang for methamphetamine, and is dubbed as poor man’s cocaine.
He added, the supply, which is largely from outside the Philippines, is "in great demand from users and distributors both coming from poor families."
"Poverty, however, does not justify the use and selling of shabu. As the President said, he has to clean up the streets of drug users, pushers and dealers, regardless of their socioeconomic status in life," he said.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine in a statement Sunday reacted to Duterte statement in a speech in Bukidnon that his anti-narcotics drive affects mostly poor people "because the poor are ignorant and more likely to be hit."
"President Duterte has finally acknowledged what police 'kill list' statistics have long made obvious: That his murderous 'war on drugs' is in fact a war on the poor given that the vast majority of its more than 7,000 victims were urban slum dwellers," Kine said on Twitter, further describing the victims as some of the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalized citizens of the Philippines.
Duterte's "admission," he said, ends the "perverse fiction" that the victims of drug war have been drug lords.
But Abella asserted that "nothing can be farther from the truth than the HRW accusation that President Duterte has "contempt for lives."
He said "eight out of ten Filipinos living in Metro Manila now feel safer and more secure under his administration."
"HRW and similar other organizations should therefore be more circumspect about meddling in the country’s domestic affairs. Their lack of appreciation of the context and local reality show a deep insensitivity to other cultures," he said.
The New York-based human rights organization recently released a report containing several witnesses’ accounts of widespread abuse of police power. The report also establishes links between the police force and so-called vigilantes.
The group argued that while Duterte has no direct involvement in the killings linked to his controversial campaign, he has “made himself criminally liable under international law for the unlawful killings as a matter of command responsibility.”