MANILA, Aug 7, (AFP): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is waging a bloody war on drug suspects, on Sunday publicly named over 160 judges, mayors, legislators, police and military men allegedly involved in narcotics and warned them to surrender. “Due process has nothing to do with my mouth (statements). There are no proceedings here, no lawyers,” he said in a pre-dawn speech just before he began listing them. More than 800 drug suspects have been killed by police or vigilantes since Duterte’s election on May 9, in a campaign which has attracted widespread criticism from rights groups. The president listed nine judges and over 50 current or former congressmen, mayors and other local officials whom he alleged were involved in illegal drugs.
Duterte ordered their security escorts withdrawn and cancelled their firearms permits, adding that they would face sanctions. He also named about a hundred retired or active police officers and soldiers whom he said were involved, and relieved them of duty. “If you show the slightest violence in the resistance, I will tell the police, ‘Shoot them’,” he told reporters and soldiers in the southern city of Davao. He said soldiers and police should immediately surrender to their superiors while the judges should report to the Supreme Court.
Duterte, who has gained widespread domestic popularity for his outspokenness, conceded “I might be wrong” about the guilt of those he named. He said the military and police had compiled the list which he insisted was not coloured by politics or personal links, adding that some of those named were even his friends. Duterte’s spokesman Martin Andanar later said that criminal cases would be filed against those named.
“The president is encouraging all of the persons of interest, the alleged drug lords and drug coddlers to come out in the open, to surrender themselves and submit themselves to thorough investigation,” he told reporters. Some of those named have since come out in media and denied their guilt. Duterte won election by vowing to wage a war on illegal drugs and other crime that would claim tens of thousands of lives. He has ordered police not to hesitate to kill and even urged ordinary citizens and communist guerrillas to join in the bloodshed. The country’s largest broadcaster ABS-CBN has listed 852 drug suspects killed since Duterte’s election. In his speech Duterte scoffed at human rights groups opposed to the killings, saying they were free to protest. “I do not care,” he said.
However the head of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines made an emotional appeal to the public to denounce the wave of drug killings. “I am a human being. That is all it takes for me to stand up and say ‘enough’,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a message read at all Catholic masses in his archdiocese, located 160 kms (100 miles) north of Manila. He said the largely Catholic Philippines was becoming a “killing fields nation” for tolerating the violence. Despite criticism from foreign and local human rights organisations and even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, surveys have shown Duterte enjoys wide public support.