A COLLECTIVE of US intelligence agencies including the CIA has listed Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and Cambodian leader Hun Sen as both ‘regional threats’ in Southeast Asia.
The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community released on Feb 13 said Duterte’s suggestion to declare a ‘revolutionary government’ and impose nationwide martial law as a threat to democracy in the region.
“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime,” the assessment said.
“Duterte has suggested he could suspend the Constitution, declare a ‘revolutionary government,’ and impose nationwide martial law. His declaration of martial law in Mindanao, responding to the ISIS-inspired siege of Marawi City, has been extended through the end of 2018.”
The intelligence agencies said democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian nations would remain fragile in 2018 because of autocratic tendencies, rampant corruption and cronyism.
On Hun Sen the report released by Daniel Coats, US director of national intelligence, said the Cambodian leader “will repress democratic institutions and civil society, manipulate government and judicial institutions, and use patronage and political violence to guarantee his rule beyond the 2018 national election”.
“Having alienated Western partners, Hun Sen will rely on Beijing’s political and financial support, drawing Cambodia closer to China as a result.”
Apart from the two leaders, the intelligence community said the Rohingya crisis in Burma would threaten its “fledgeling democracy, increase the risk of violent extremism, and provide openings for Beijing to expand its influence.”
Over in Thailand, the community highlighted Junta’s presence in the administration despite promises of an election later this year, while the new Constitution “will institutionalize the military’s influence.”
Earlier, Duterte has said the CIA wants him “out of government”, while Hun Sen has accused the western country of trying to destabilise his country through protests and opposition proxies.
In Oct 2017, the US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim denied that the CIA was plotting against Duterte’s government, according to Rappler.
Coats said the assessment covers “threats to US national security.” Their output, he said, is needed “to protect American lives and America’s interests anywhere in the world.”
The US Intelligence community comprises 17 agencies, including the CIA which conducts intelligence activities to help US foreign policy and ensure national security.
In response, the Philippines presidential palace issued a statement denying that Duterte is an autocrat and is taking seriously the report by the US intelligence community
“We view this declaration from no less than the intelligence department of the United States with some concern,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told DZMM radio.
The spokesman refuted that assessment.
“For one, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is no autocrat or has autocratic tendencies. He adheres to the rule of law and remains loyal to the constitution,” Roque said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
He added the so-called revolutionary government or nationwide martial law that Duterte might impose did not exist.
Despite the denial, Duterte has publicly made such threats on several occasions. In December, Philippine lawmakers approved a year-long extension of martial rule Mindanao, in the country’s southern region which has been plagued by armed months-long conflict with Islamic-state inspired militants.
Thousands have been slain in Duterte’s war on drugs with human rights organisations accusing the Philippine National Police of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
At least 4,000 people have been killed in the drug war, according to official statistics but rights groups and advocates believe the number is much higher.
Earlier this month, the prosecutors from the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
In December, the US announced new visa restrictions upon individuals it said were involved in “undermining democracy” and violating human rights in Cambodia.
The US State Department said it was taking “concrete steps” to respond to actions taken Hun Sen’s government in Cambodia, which it said “run counter to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 that … afforded the Cambodian people democratic rights”.
Hun Sen – who has ruled the Kingdom for more than 30 years – is presiding over what many have claimed is a crackdown against political opposition ahead of elections in 2018.