MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Philippine vice president is raising alarms about the president's bloody crackdown on illegal drug use, which she says can't be solved "with bullets alone," adding that Filipinos should "defy brazen incursions on their rights."
Vice President Leni Robredo's videotaped comments, which were issued to the media Wednesday, are some of her sharpest critiques so far of President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign and are likely to antagonize him because they are intended for a meeting of international human rights advocates, whom he has often lambasted.
Philippine presidents and vice presidents are elected separately and often come from rival political parties. Robredo, who belongs to the opposition Liberal Party, resigned from a Cabinet post in December, citing "major differences in principles and values" with the brash-talking leader.
In her speech to be shown Thursday at a U.N.-linked forum on extrajudicial killings in Vienna, Austria, she raised concerns about the mounting number of killings of mostly poor drug suspects she described as "summary executions," and about a lack of transparency and accountability in Duterte's crackdown.
"We are now looking at some very grim statistics. Since July last year, more than 7,000 people have been killed in summary executions," Robredo said in the video.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Robredo can speak freely on public issues but should avoid unfounded allegations. Duterte and his national police chief have said they do not condone extrajudicial killings, but have repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death in public speeches.
Robredo said Filipinos deserve safe communities, "but drug abuse should not be treated as one that can be solved with bullets alone. It must be regarded as it truly is: a complex public health issue, linked intimately with poverty and social inequality."
She said she has received complaints that residents of impoverished Manila communities have been rounded up in places like basketball courts and told they had no right to demand search warrants because they were living illegally on land they did not own.
Robredo said she has also been told that law enforcers sometimes threatened close family members with detention when they were unable to locate the real drug suspects.
National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said the allegations, if true, violate police policy and should have been reported to authorities so they could investigate. "If these are happening or have happened, our request is for specifics because these are not sanctioned," he said.
Robredo said Filipinos should demand greater transparency in the publicly funded campaign and ask "why no one is being held accountable," citing what she said were hundreds of complaints filed with the Commission on Human Rights, which recommended that the Department of Justice file criminal complaints. However, no complaints have been filed against law enforcers, said Robredo, who previously worked as a human rights lawyer.
Robredo said she has publicly asked Duterte "to direct the nation toward respect for rule of law, instead of blatant disregard for it. We ask him to uphold basic human rights enshrined in our constitution, instead of encouraging its abuse."
"We also asked the Filipino people to defy brazen incursions on their rights," said Robredo, who has said she joined the 1986 "people power" revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. "The Filipino nation has come so far since our country's darkest days. We are not about to back down now."