US troubled by increasing extrajudicial killings in Philippines

The body of a dead man with his head wrapped with masking tape, whom police said was a victim of a drug-related vigilante execution. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2017
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US troubled by increasing extrajudicial killings in Philippines

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it was troubled by the growing number of extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and called on Manila to stick to its commitment to investigate them.
According to police data issued this month, nearly 9,000 people, most of them drug users and dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office almost 10 months ago and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the Philippines of illicit narcotics.
Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. The government and police reject that.
Patrick Murphy, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, said the United States shared Manila’s objective of eliminating the scourge of illicit drugs and wanted to help.
“We however do have a very sustained and deep concern when elements of the drug war are operating outside the rule of law,” Murphy told reporters. “The growing number of extrajudicial killings is troubling.”
Rights advocates were concerned when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sidestepped questions about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines during his January confirmation hearing, raising the possibility that President Donald Trump might take a softer line on the issue than his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Murphy said there was a distinction between being a nominee and the secretary of state and Tillerson was now the leader of the policy of expressing concern about the way the drug war was being waged.
“We are urging the Philippines to follow up on its commitment to investigate extrajudicial killings whether they are committed by law enforcement, or of a vigilante nature,” he said.
Ernesto Abella, a spokesman of Duterte, said the Philippines shared the concern of the United States and said authorities “follow operational protocols” and those who breached procedures were made to answer before the law.
“We expect fairness and not a rush to judgment,” Abella said in a statement, adding persistent news report about close to 9,000 people being killed in the drug war “is false news.”
From July until March 24, he said police recorded more than 6,000 people had been killed, classified as cases under investigation, but only 1,398 of the deaths were found to be drug-related.
Abella’s figure did not include more than 2,600 people killed in police operations.
Earlier on Thursday, Duterte’s office rejected allegations by two senior police officers in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects, while the most high-profile critic of the president backed the officers’ claims.
Duterte was infuriated by US expressions of concern about extrajudicial killings after he took office last year and threatened to sever the long-standing US defense alliance.
Duterte spoke positively about Trump, a fellow populist, after the US presidential election in November, although his anti-US rhetoric continued.


Australia maintain South China Sea patrols despite encounter with Chinese navy

Updated 9 min 55 sec ago
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Australia maintain South China Sea patrols despite encounter with Chinese navy

CANBERRA, Australia: Australia’s prime minister said his country has a “perfect right” to traverse the South China Sea after a media report Friday that the Chinese navy challenged three Australian warships in the hotly contested waterway.
The Chinese “challenged” two Australian frigates and an oil replenishment ship this month as the Australian vessels were sailing to Vietnam, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing anonymous defense officials.
It is not clear what took place during the encounter while China was conducting its largest ever naval exercises in the region.
China’s Defense Ministry defended its navy’s actions, saying the report “does not conform with the facts.”
On April 15, ships from the Chinese and Australian navies “encountered each other in the South China Sea,” it said in a statement. “The Chinese ships employed professional language in communicating with the Australian side, operated legally and according to regulation, professionally and safely,” the statement said.
No details were given about what was communicated during the exchange or if any other actions were taken.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has built several islands to bolster its position in the waterway where other governments have competing claims and which is one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
Australia has resisted pressure from the US, its most important defense ally, to challenge the Chinese territorial zones, which are not recognized by international law. US Navy vessels regularly sail close to Chinese-built features that include military installations, drawing protests from Beijing.
“We maintain and practice the right of freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the world and, in this context, we’re talking about naval vessels on the world’s oceans, including the South China Sea, as is our perfect right in accordance with international law,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said. He did not comment on the specific incident when questioned by reporters in London.
The Defense Department said it did not provide operational details related to ships transiting the South China Sea. But it confirmed the three warships had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday. They are making a three-day goodwill visit to Vietnam.
Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defense Association, a security policy think-tank, said the first aspect of such a challenge was usually a radio warning that the Australians were in Chinese territorial waters and a demand for identification. The Australians would have replied that they were in international waters.
The next levels of challenge involve sending an aircraft and ship to investigate.
“It just escalates. Eventually if they’re in your territorial waters and they’re not meant to be there, you might fire a shot across their bows — but no one has done that for years, apart from the North Koreans,” James said.
Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of US forces in the Pacific, has invited Australia to mount joint naval patrols in the South China Sea and has described China as “a disruptive transnational force.”
President Donald Trump has nominated the outspoken critic of China as the next US ambassador to Australia.