MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday lashed out at influential American newspaper the New York Times for its scathing piece that called for his condemnation, giving the paper back the message it had sent through an editorial on April 25.
“It’s about time their publication must also stop,” Duterte told reporters on the sidelines of a joint press conference with visiting Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah,
The globally popular newspaper had described the Filipino leader in its editorial as “a man who must be stopped.”
After a formal delivery of his remarks at the joint presser, tough-talking Duterte again unleashed invectives in a door-stop interview with reporters, calling the American publication an “a**hole.” He then went on to recount the supposed abuses committed by the United States against other nations, as he did in his past speeches.
It was the first time for Duterte himself to comment on the editorial after earlier statements by Palace officials.
The New York Times issued its editorial after a complaint was filed against Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC), tagging him a mass murderer responsible for deaths of criminals and political rivals during his time as Davao City Mayor and, now, of drug suspects under his bloody war on drugs.
The editorial piece said, the ICC should “promptly open a preliminary investigation into the killings” linked to the government’s drug war.
Jude Sabio, lawyer of self-confessed Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato, accused Duterte and 11 government and police officials of committing crimes against humanity for the spate of deaths under the administration's drug war.
The complaint cited testimonies from Matobato, another self-confessed DDS assassin Arthur Lascañas, and various reports from human rights groups and media organizations.
“Mr. Sabio is not the first to accuse Mr. Duterte of mass killings – so have Human Rights Watch, in 2009; Amnesty International, this January; and some brave Filipino politicians,” the New York Times editorial read.
Matobato and Lascañas earlier tagged the President in DDS murders during his years as Davao City Mayor.
Duterte has given varying answers to the existence of the death squad, but the two self-confessed hitmen have maintained that the long-time city chief ordered killings of petty criminals, drug dealers, and even political enemies.
In the 77-page communication to the ICC, Sabio said Duterte had "repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously" committed crimes against humanity, and that killing drug suspects and other criminals has become "best practice" under his administration's war on drugs.
More than 7,000 have died in Duterte's fierce anti-drug campaign, but the administration has maintained that less than half have been killed in legitimate police operations. Reuters has placed the death toll at 9,000, while the New York Times editorial piece pegged it at 9,400.
The Palace had earlier said the ICC case would not prosper. Duterte’s allies in Congress, as well as top government lawyer Jose Calida, also share the same position.
The complaint is only a possible first step in what could be a long process at the ICC. The tribunal has to first decide whether it has jurisdiction, and then rule on whether it should conduct a preliminary examination.
The New York Times piece acknowledged the ICC may only step in if it is proven that a country’s “national courts are unwilling or unable” to investigate cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“Those conditions might be met if the Philippines House of Representatives, dominated by Mr. Duterte’s allies, quashes, as expected, an impeachment motion filed by an opposition lawyer,” the opinion piece reads.
“But there is already more than enough evidence for a preliminary investigation, which would send an unmistakable signal to Mr. Duterte that he may eventually have to answer for his crimes, and would encourage governments to take measures against him, such as imposing tariffs on Philippine goods.”
The New York Times said, if the findings of Sabio and other human rights organizations are not enough, “there are Mr. Duterte’s savage words” to serve as basis.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter,” the newspaper quoted Duterte as saying.