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Thousands rally for and against Duterte

Thousands of anti-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte protesters gather at a park in Manila on Sept 21, to commemorate the 45th declaration of martial law on Sept 21, 1972 by the then president Ferdinand Marcos. Activists are holding a series of protests on Sept 21 to denounce drug war killings and what they say is a slide to tyranny under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (AFP)

MANILA, Sept 21, (AFP): Thousands of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s critics and supporters held rival rallies Thursday, taking emotional national debates over his deadly drug war and martial-law threats to the streets. Police in battle gear kept order as at least 8,000 protesters held a series of rallies across Manila, using the 45th anniversary of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposing martial law to warn that Duterte was equally violent and authoritarian.

“Our country is turning into a graveyard. People are getting killed everyday and we bury the dead everyday, just like in the time of Marcos,” anti-Duterte protest leader Pedro Gonzales told AFP. But supporters of Duterte also turned up in large numbers, reflecting his popularity with many Filipinos who see him as a charismatic, anti-establishment politician who is their best chance to quell crime and corruption. Duterte vowed in last year’s election campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing up to 100,000 traffickers and addicts. Since he assumed office 15 months ago police have reported killing more than 3,800 people in anti-drug operations.

The crackdown has triggered wider violence with thousands of other people being murdered in unexplained circumstances that rights groups partly attribute to vigilante death squads. Waving banners that said “No to Martial Law” and “Stop the Killings”, Gonzales and about 300 other protesters burnt a poster that said “Fascist” over pictures of Duterte and Marcos outside the Philippine military headquarters. Duterte considers Marcos the country’s “best” leader ever and has repeatedly threatened to impose martial law as a solution to the Philippines’ woes. Police said thousands of anti-Duterte protesters later gathered outside Malacanang presidential palace before moving to a Manila park for their final rally, which was attended by some 8,000 people.

The anti-Duterte crowd outside the palace burned a “Rody’s Cube” — a wooden block modeled on the Rubik’s Cube puzzle bearing the faces of Marcos, Duterte, and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The protesters were backed by the political opposition and leaders of the Catholic Church, the Asian country’s dominant religion, signalling rising opposition to Duterte. Many of the personalities and institutions in this camp are also identified with the bloodless “People Power” revolution that ended Marcos’ 20-year rule in 1986. Vice President Leni Robredo and Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, both critics of the incumbent leader, attended a separate mass for the drug war dead Thursday.

‘Son will be killed if involved in drugs’: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will have his son killed if drug trafficking allegations against the younger politician are true, and that the police who carry out the hit will be protected from prosecution. Paolo Duterte, 42, this month appeared before a senate inquiry to deny accusations made by an opposition lawmaker he was a member of a Chinese triad who helped smuggle in a huge shipment of crystal methamphetamine from China.

President Duterte did not refer to the allegations specifically but reiterated his statement from last year’s election campaign that none of his children were involved in drugs, but they would face the harshest punishment if they were. “I said before my order was: ‘If I have children who are into drugs, kill them so people will not have anything to say’,” Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday night before government workers at the presidential palace in Manila. “So I told Pulong (Paolo’s nickname): ‘My order is to kill you if you are caught. And I will protect the police who kill you, if it is true’,” he said.

Duterte, 72, won the presidential elections on a brutal law-and-order platform in which he promised an unprecedented campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing up to 100,000 traffickers and addicts. Since he assumed office in the middle of last year, police have reported killing more than 3,800 people in anti-drug operations while thousands of others have been murdered in unexplained circumstances. Duterte has as president said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts, and described children shot dead in the drug war as “collateral damage”.

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