Philippines’ Duterte picks top drug war critic as his ‘drugs tsar’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed a new drugs tsar. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 November 2019

Philippines’ Duterte picks top drug war critic as his ‘drugs tsar’

  • Duterte’s decision to appoint his political rival follows critical remarks
  • Duterte has openly insulted Robredo, who leads a party with diminished power and influence

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his main political rival, Leni Robredo, his “drugs tsar,” after the opposition leader expressed alarm about the high death toll in his anti-narcotics campaign and said it needed a fresh approach.
The appointment follows critical remarks by Robredo during an interview with Reuters, and in subsequent media appearances, which angered the volatile Duterte and led to a torrent of social media fury at Robredo, who is his vice president but has no role in his administration.
Duterte’s spokesman announced Robredo’s appointment on Tuesday as co-chair of an inter-agency panel on drugs, which he said was genuine and not a cynical political play to discredit her, as her camp believed. The president has ordered all agencies to give her their full support.
“If she has been criticizing the drug war as ineffective, then there must be ideas on her mind to make it effective,” Panelo said on television.
Robredo, 54, was elected separately to Duterte and is among a growing number of critics who say his approach has boosted his tough image but had little impact on the drugs trade or addiction rates.
She did not immediately confirm if she would take the job. Her spokesman has said she would not be a scapegoat for the shortcomings of Duterte’s war on drugs.
He remains hugely popular because of his defiance of the international outcry caused by his signature crackdown, which human rights groups say involves systematic executions and police cover-ups. Police reject that and say the nearly 7,000 people they killed were armed drug suspects who resisted arrest.
Duterte is furious that the UN Human Rights Council wants to investigate the killings, adding to an ongoing preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC), of which Duterte has canceled the Philippines’ membership.

Obliged to accept
Allies of the president urged Robredo to take the post while the Dangerous Drugs Board and police said they welcomed her experience, ideas and new perspective.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said that politics aside, Robredo was not in a position to decline.
“There’s the obligation, not just a personal decision. If you were elected and the president sought for help, you will,” he said.
Duterte has openly insulted Robredo, who leads a party with diminished power and influence.
She advocates tackling drugs from a health, social and community perspective, including prevention and treatment rather than a largely police-centered approach.
Activists say police are operating with impunity, with the implied support of a president who once vowed to kill 100,000 dealers, and he would be happy to slaughter millions of addicts. He has since said he uses hyperbole to stress a point and denies inciting murder.
Estimates of the number killed during the drugs war vary significantly, but thousands of users and alleged dealers have wound up dead outside of official police operations, many in mysterious circumstances.
Robredo on Oct. 23 told Reuters that international help, including from the United Nations and ICC, should be sought if the government refused to change tack and stop abusive police. On Duterte’s approach, she said: “Obviously, it’s not working.”
Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana of the Commission on Human Rights was hopeful Robredo could stop the killings.
“Are we going to look at addicts as victims?” she said. “The approach would not be to kill them but to rehabilitate them.”


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.