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Angry at criticism, Philippines’ president dares vice to take over law enforcement

Philippine mayor on Duterte ‘narco’ list shot dead

MANILA: Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte yesterday lashed out at Vice President Leni Robredo for criticizing his war on drugs, and offered to put her in charge of law enforcement. The president has a frosty relationship with opposition leader Robredo, who was elected separately from Duterte, whose drugs crackdown has killed thousands, stirring global alarm, although polls show strong domestic support for the campaign. “I will surrender my powers to enforce the law,” Duterte said in remarks to newly-appointed government officials. “I will give it to the vice president for six months. I’ll let her carry it out, let us see what will happen. I will not interfere.”

It was not immediately clear if Duterte’s offer was meant sarcastically, although he said he would send a letter to Robredo, a former human rights lawyer. A spokesman for Duterte did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters asking about the legal basis for such a transfer of authority. The comments follow Robredo’s statements in an interview with Reuters, saying that too many people had been killed in the crackdown, which had not solved the drugs problem.

The comments have outraged Duterte, his aides and supporters. Robredo also urged access for the United Nations to investigate accusations of rights abuses over the crackdown, which Duterte’s administration has rejected as lies. Later, Duterte told reporters Robredo could start the job anytime. “If she wants, I can commission her to be the drug czar,” Duterte said. “I’ll give her a clean slate, so she will know how easy it is to control drugs.” Approached by Reuters for comment, Robredo’s office said the vice president had no statement on the matter yet.

In an interview with news channel ANC yesterday, Robredo stood by her criticism of Duterte’s policies. “I can’t just sit back and look the other way,” she said. “If I see something wrong, I feel it’s my obligation to verbalize what I see, no matter how few we are.” Philippine authorities reject activists’ allegations that drug dealers and users are being executed and say the more than 7,000 people killed by police had all resisted arrest. Police say they have no connection to the mysterious murders of thousands more drug users.

Philippine mayor shot dead

In another development, a Philippine mayor tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as a “narco-politician” was ambushed while in police custody and killed Friday, police said, the latest official on the leader’s blacklist to be targeted by unknown gunmen. Gunmen stopped a police van that was taking David Navarro, the mayor of the small southern town of Clarin, to the state prosecutor’s office in the central city of Cebu and shot him dead, authorities said.

City police had arrested Navarro, who was visiting on official business, late Thursday after he allegedly assaulted a masseur, a Cebu police officer who asked not to be named told AFP. Following the attack, in which one of Navarro’s police escorts was also injured, the gunmen escaped, police said. Local television footage showed two women named by the station as the politician’s siblings crying and hugging a bloodied body sprawled on the road beside a police van.

The Philippines has a violent and often deadly political culture, but rights monitors have expressed concern that Duterte’s signature drug war – which has led to the killings of thousands of narcotics suspects by police – may be emboldening assailants. On March 14, ahead of May elections, Navarro’s name had turned up in a list of 44 mostly local officials put out by Duterte, who accused them of being “involved in the deadly game of drug trafficking”. Duterte had also released a longer list in 2016 of more than 150 judges, mayors and other local officials allegedly linked to drugs.

On that list, Mayor Vicente Loot of the central town of Daanbantayan later survived a 2018 ambush, while Mayor Jed Mabilog of the central city of Iloilo went into hiding in 2017. Two other mayors in the longer list, Rolando Espinosa and Reynaldo Parojinog, were killed by police in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Espinosa was shot dead inside a police jail. Mayor Antonio Halili, who was assassinated by a sniper as he attended a flag-raising ceremony outside his office in Tanauan city near Manila last year, was linked by Duterte to illegal drugs hours after the attack.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency also said Mariano Blanco, who was killed by unknown gunmen at his office in the southern town of Ronda last year, was also on the government’s narcotics watchlist. Philippine police say they have killed just over 5,500 drug suspects who fought back against arrest, but rights groups say the true toll is four times higher and may amount to crimes against humanity. International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe of the drug war killings, and the UN’s top human rights body has approved a review.- Agencies

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