MANILA (Reuters) – The vice president of the Philippines has issued a strong rebuke of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, describing it in a video sent to the United Nations as an issue of public health that cannot be solved “with bullets alone”.
More than 8,000 people have died since Duterte began his war on drugs when he took office on June 30. More than 2,500 were killed in police operations during which officers said they fired in self-defence.
Human rights groups say thousands of other deaths of drug users and peddlers are extrajudicial killings, probably ordered by police. Police strongly reject that.
In a message to be shown on Thursday at the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Drugs in Geneva, Leni Robredo challenged Duterte’s crackdown, describing the killings as “summary executions”. Filipinos were “hopeless and helpless”, she added.
“The body count due to the drug-related killings keeps growing,” Robredo said in the video statement uploaded on YouTube.
“We are now looking at some very grim statistics: since July last year, more than 7,000 people have been killed in summary executions. Our people need nothing less than a safe environment.”
Robredo has emerged as one of a few high-profile Filipinos willing to speak out against the war on drugs.
Many of its domestic critics have been ridiculed and are routinely discredited by Duterte and his aides, some subject to fierce barbs from the president’s huge online support base.
Robredo’s relationship with Duterte is frosty and since being disinvited from cabinet meetings, they meet rarely and only at public events.
She belongs to another political party and was not Duterte’s choice for vice president, an official elected in a separate contest.
A social activist and lawyer, Robredo said the public should demand greater transparency about the drugs war and questioned Duterte’s figures on drug use.
Duterte has recently described 4 million Filipinos as “slaves” to drugs.
“Our leaders must be honest about the basis of the drug war and what exactly is the scope of the drug problem,” she said, adding that it was linked with poverty and inequality.
Robredo detailed a litany of alleged human rights abuses during the crackdown on what she said were predominantly poor communities.
“People are told they do not have any right to demand search warrants as they are squatters,” she said in the video.
Robredo accused police of a tactic of detaining the loved ones of drug suspects if they cannot find their targets.
Police spokesman Dionardo Carlos rebutted that contention, while presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Robredo was mistaken. He did not address other remarks in her video.
“While she has the right to speak freely on matters of public concern, she also has the responsibility to be careful with her statements, especially avoiding unfounded allegations from questionable sources,” Abella said.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)