PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte kicked off the ASEAN Summit on Saturday by evoking his brutal and highly-criticised anti-drug campaign.
In his opening speech to the 30th annual regional summit, Duterte called on the bloc’s leaders to work together to end the illegal drug trade.
“We must be resolute in realising a drug-free ASEAN… I have seen how drugs have ended hopes, dreams, future and even lives of countless people, especially the youth,” said the President.
“The illegal drug trade apparatus is massive, but it is not impregnable. With political will and cooperation, it can be dismantled, it can be destroyed before it destroys our societies,” he told members, as reported by ABS-CBN News.
Many commentators believed Duterte’s bloody war on drugs would be largely ignored and brushed under the carpet at the summit as it was conspicuously missing from a draft statement to be issued by the Philippine president at the end of Saturday’s summit. But in placing his campaign centre stage in his opening remarks of the regional meet, Duterte has shown that he will not be fazed by the fierce international criticism he has faced in recent weeks.
International rights group Amnesty International called the Philippines’ chairing of the summit against the “horrifying” backdrop of the brutal war on drugs a “scandal”, and called for the government to make “independent and effective investigations into unlawful killings an immediate priority.”
On Tuesday, a New York Times editorial called for the world to condemn Duterte and to consider imposing economic sanctions on the Philippines to force the president to answer for his role in the killings.
It is currently estimated police and unidentified gunmen have killed more than 9,000 suspected drug users and dealers in the anti-drug crackdown.
Police claim to have killed 2,690 people, but this number doesn’t include the drug war victims Duterte calls “collateral damage” – including children killed by stray police bullets.
Duterte’s opening statement comes just days after Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio formally asked the International Criminal Court on Monday to charge the president and 11 officials with mass murder and crimes against humanity over the extrajudicial killings.
On top of this, the embattled president is also facing an impeachment bid at home.
As he continues to court a storm of criticism from international governments and the media, some feel Duterte may get a more sympathetic audience within the ASEAN leadership.
“The ratbag of dictators, autocrats and juntas that dominate ASEAN’s ranks perceive transparency, accountability and rule of law as existential threats rather than foundations of good governance,” said Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch, as reported by The PhilStar.
“Expect ASEAN leaders to yet again throw the human rights of an Asian country under the bus by remaining silent about Duterte’s abusive drug war by implicitly or explicitly invoking the organization’s ‘non-interference’ principle”.