RECENT boasts by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that he used to ride around on his motorcycle in search of criminals to put down are “deeply troubling”, the White House said.
Speaking at a daily briefing on Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that Duterte’s comments appeared to contradict his administration’s claim of its commitment to uphold rule of law.
“Those comments are deeply troubling, and they certainly are at odds with the Philippine government’s stated commitment to due process and rule of law,” he was quoted saying by the Associated Press.
Earnest also reiterated the U.S.’s concern about Duterte’s war on drugs, which has claimed the lives of over 5,000 crime suspects so far.
On Monday, Duterte reportedly told businessmen in a speech at the presidential palace that during his days as Davao City mayor, he used to prowl the streets on a “big bike” in search of “trouble”.
In the stunning admission reported by the AFP on Wednesday, Duterte said he was “really looking for a confrontation so I could kill”, adding that he did so to set an example for the police.
“I used to do it personally. If I can do it why can’t you?”.
His remarks did not explicitly mention if he actually carried out the killings but Philippine senators, commenting on the matter later, said it was enough to get the president impeached.
Duterte’s harsh crackdown on drug criminals in the country has resulted in thousands of deaths, while more than 600,000 are said to have surrendered in fear of their lives.
The violence has sparked widespread condemnation, with U.S. leaders, international groupings like the United Nations and European Union, and international rights advocates expressing concern and urging the Philippine government to stop the bloodshed.
The headstrong Duterte, however, has continued to thumb his nose at detractors, claiming they were ill-informed of how badly the drug scourge has affected Philippine society.
His strong-arm tactics, compounded further by public declarations of plans to revamp the Philippines’ foreign policy, have also put a strain on decades of diplomatic ties between Manila and Washington.
This week, the Millennium Challenge Corp (MCC), a U.S. poverty reduction agency, said it has put on hold a decision to fund its second anti-poverty programme for the Philippines.
According to Reuters, the MCC board had “deferred a vote on the reselection of the Philippines for compact development, subject to further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties”.
Responding later, Philippine Economic Planning Minister Ernesto Pernia dismissed the decision as inconsequential, saying the nation would not “lose sleep” over it.