Tag Archives: Philippines

The Death of a Businessman and the Philippines’ Drug War

South Korean nationals pay their respect during a memorial service for their compatriot Jee Ick-joo, who was allegedly killed by policemen inside the Camp Crame police camp, in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines February 6, 2017. Picture taken February 6, 2017.    REUTERS/Erik De Castro

South Korean nationals pay their respect during a memorial service for their compatriot Jee Ick-joo, who was allegedly killed by policemen inside the Camp Crame police camp, in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines February 6, 2017. Picture taken February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

By Karen Lema and Martin Petty 
February, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) – When Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte summoned his security chiefs to an urgent meeting one Sunday night last month, his mind was already made up.

His military and law enforcement heads had no idea what was coming: a suspension of the police force’s leading role in his signature campaign, a merciless war on illegal drugs.

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte during the announcement of the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017.       REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte during the announcement of the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

There was only one reason for the U-turn, three people who attended the Jan. 29 meeting told Reuters. Duterte was furious that drugs-squad cops had not only kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, they had strangled him to death in the headquarters of the Philippines National Police itself.

“He was straight to the point – ‘I am ordering you to disband your anti-drug units, all units’,” said Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was at the meeting in the presidential palace.

Duterte decided that the much smaller Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) would take over the drugs crackdown, with support from the military.

It was a stunning turnaround by Duterte, who had until then stood unswervingly behind his police force through months of allegations that its officers were guilty of extra-judicial killings and colluding with hit men in a campaign that has claimed the lives of more than 7,600 people, mostly drug pushers and users, in seven months.

The blunt-spoken president had repeatedly defied calls from United Nations, the United States and the European Union to rein in his war on drugs, calling them stupid and ‘sons of bitches’. Duterte’s aides were used to his mercurial style, but they were taken aback that the killing of one foreigner would be enough to stop him in his tracks.

One explanation is that relations with South Korea are of huge importance to the Philippines for development aid, tourism, overseas employment and military hardware.

But security officials said it was the audacity of the killing of Jee Ick-joo and the attempt to use the war on drugs as a cover for kidnap and ransom that triggered his decision.

“It’s all about the Korean. That it happened at all, it’s really that (which) pissed him off,” Lorenzana told Reuters.

PDEA Director General Isidro Lapena, who was also at the meeting, hadn’t seen it coming either. He said in an interview that the president had lambasted the police force and told them that the “deactivation” and purge of its anti-drugs unit was now as important as the drugs war itself.

Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa told Reuters that Duterte had been “really mad” about the incident and, after the meeting, the president publicly denounced the police force as “corrupt to the core”.

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa listens as President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017.      REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa listens as President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

“SO OBVIOUS”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017.       REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

The president’s legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said the president, a former prosecutor, makes decisions strictly on the basis of the letter of the law. Activists’ allegations of summary executions had no supporting evidence, he said, yet to Duterte, Jee’s killing was irrefutable, audacious and embarrassing.

“The committing of that crime was so obvious,” he said.

Worried that the incident would dent the Philippines’ image in South Korea, Duterte sent Panelo to Seoul to apologise to acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Seoul is Manila’s biggest supplier of military hardware, donating or selling fighter jets, patrol boats, frigates and trucks.

About 1.4 million South Koreans visited the Philippines in the first 10 months of 2016 – a quarter of all tourists arrivals – lured by beaches, golf and the sex industry. Korean tourists spend an average $180-$200 daily, and their overall spending is triple that of U.S. visitors.

South Korea is the Philippines’ fifth-largest source of development aid and in 2015 invested $520 million in areas like power, tourism and electronics manufacturing.

About 55,000 Filipinos work in South Korea and the Philippines attracts Koreans studying English, over 3,700 of them last year.

A South Korean diplomat in Manila said there were no threats or pressure on the Philippine government over the killing of the businessman, but Seoul wanted a guarantee of safety for its citizens and a secure investment climate.

Hoik Lee, president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, said South Koreans felt increasingly unsafe in the country.

The chamber’s membership has grown from 20 firms in 1995 to 500 companies now, including Samsung Electro-Mechanics <009150.KS>, Hanjin and LG <003550.KS>, but Lee estimated that the Korean community has shrunk by about a third to 100,000 people since 2013 despite the bright economic outlook in the Philippines.

“Police should protect us not kill us,” Lee said. “That is why we are very upset and very shocked.”

The number of Koreans murdered in the Philippines averages about 10 each year, accounting for a third of all Korean nationals killed overseas, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.

However, South Koreans are perpetrators of crime as much as they are its victims in the Philippines, says the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, which has a Korean desk handling cases of kidnappings, murder, robbery, theft, extortion and fraud, mostly in Korean communities, where mafias operate.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul and Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

You may also wish to read:

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist, 2016

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church, by Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr, October, 2016

Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte. More than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

 ~~~

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Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church

Filipino Catholic devotees attend a regular mass at a National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque city, metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Filipino Catholic devotees attend a regular mass at a National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque city, metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr
October, 2016

MANILA (Reuters) – Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte.

In interviews with Reuters, more than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

Duterte, who had a 76 percent satisfaction rating in a survey released last week, has quashed opposition to his war on drugs and blasted critics in curse-laden language. More than 3,600 people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, have died at the hands of police and suspected vigilantes since he took power on June 30.

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In another poll conducted by the same agency, the Social Weather Stations, 84 percent of respondents said they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the war on the drugs, although a majority said they had qualms about the killings.

Opposing the drug war “in some locations becomes a dangerous job”, said Father Luciano Felloni, a priest in a northern district of the capital, Manila. At least 30 people, including a child and a pregnant woman, have been killed in his ‘barangay’, or neighbourhood, where he is setting up community-based rehabilitation for drug users.

“There is a lot of fear because the way people have been killed is vigilante-style so anyone could become a target … There is no way of protecting yourself.”

Another priest, who like several others asked for anonymity because of possible reprisals, said it was risky to question the killings openly. Dozens of drug addicts and pushers are being killed every day, but anyone who criticises Duterte’s campaign could suffer a similar fate, he said.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Church was free to make statements, and there was no cause “to even imply” that anyone in the clergy would be targeted.

However, Abella added: “The Church needs to consider that recent surveys show the people trust and appreciate the president’s efforts and it would do well to take heed and not presume that the people share their  belief system.”

“We expect them to be reasonable and considered.”

Duterte said on Monday he would not stop the campaign.

“I’m really appalled by so many groups and individuals, including priests and bishops, complaining about the number of persons killed in the operation against drugs,” he said in a speech in the southern city of Zamboanga.

“If I stop, the next generation would be lost.”

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“CHURCH WILL LOSE”

Some priests have supported Duterte’s war on drugs.

“Are the means unnecessarily illegitimate?” said Father Joel Tabora, a Jesuit priest in Davao, where Duterte was mayor for 22 years, and where about 1,400 people were killed from 1998 until the end of last year in a similar anti-crime and anti-drug campaign, according to activists.

“People are dying, yes, but on the other hand, millions of people are being helped,” said Tabora.

Three decades ago, the Church in the Philippines championed a ‘People Power’ revolution that reverberated around the world and ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It also participated in a popular movement in 2001 that led to the impeachment and removal of another president, Joseph Estrada.

For the Vatican, the Philippines is a key eastern hub: it has the third-largest population of Catholics globally and accounts for more than half of Asia’s roughly 148 million Catholics.

Nearly 80 percent of the 100 million people in the Philippines are Catholic and, unlike in many other countries where the faith was once strong, the vast majority still practice with enthusiasm.

Duterte, who is not a regular church-goer himself and says he was sexually abused by a priest as a boy, has publicly questioned the Church’s relevance and he dubbed May’s presidential election a referendum between him and the Church.

His victory by a substantial margin indicates that despite its appeal, the political clout of the Church is waning, some priests say. Indeed, many churchgoers who spoke to Reuters said they supported the war on drugs.

At the San Felipe Neri Parish Church in Manila on a recent Sunday, Father Francis Lucas said in a sermon that the Philippines was going through a “moral crisis”.

“Why are all of these killings happening?” he asked, pacing in front of hundreds of people packed into wooden pews. “You have to love and care for one another.”

Lucas is one of the few priests to oppose the killings in his sermons. But he later told Reuters it was unfair to expect the Church to influence the course of the war on drugs because it no longer had the secular power it once enjoyed.

“How come everybody wants the Church to act when others don’t?” Lucas said. “Yes, we have influence but times have also changed.”

In the car park outside the church, where people had spilt out and were listening on loudspeakers, his sermon did not go down well.

“The Church has to back off,” said Jenny Calma, a 34-year-old mother of two.

“We voted for our president because he promised to stop drugs,” Calma said as her children played between parked cars.

“The Church will lose” if it takes on Duterte over the killings, she added. “The feeling, the atmosphere in the community – sometimes the Church understands, sometimes it doesn’t.”

People gather around religious statues and objects after a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

People gather around religious statues and objects after a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“LIFE IS CHEAP”

Nevertheless, some in the clergy are providing shelter to individuals trying to flee the campaign.

“There are cases where asylum is being sought and given, which are not brought to the attention of media … especially during these times when life is cheap and summary execution is a way of living, and extra-judicial killing is a matter of course,” retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz told Reuters.

He was also head of the country’s apex Catholic body, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Cruz said details of the priests involved, their locations and who they were protecting were restricted because of the dangers involved.

Reuters spoke with one priest who temporarily hid someone fearing for his life, but the priest declined to be named because of concerns about his safety. He said that if any details were revealed he would become a target.

At the Vatican, a senior official said the Holy See’s Secretariat of State was following the situation in the Philippines closely but, as with all countries, would leave it to the national bishops’ conference to make its position on internal matters known to governments.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue, however called the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines worrying.

After Duterte took power, the first official comment from the Philippines’ conference of bishops came in mid-September. By then the president had been in office for two-and-a-half months and almost 3,000 people had died.

In that message, the CBCP said “deaths because of police encounters, deaths from extra-judicial killings” were cause for mourning and that drug addicts needed healing. But it also echoed the president’s language, noting that the drug users “may have behaved as scum and rubbish”.

Cruz said the Church was being “prudent” because so many people supported the summary execution of drug dealers.

“The CBCP also has to be very careful because it might unnecessarily offend a good number of people with goodwill, who are Catholics themselves,” he said.

Under long-serving Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Philippines Church helped topple Presidents Marcos and Estrada and campaigned against the death penalty, which was suspended in 2006.

Sin, who retired in 2003 and died two years later, saw the Church’s role as socio-political. However, before he retired, he initiated the division of the Archdiocese of Manila into multiple dioceses all run independently under different bishops.

Now, priests say, the Church’s leadership is more fragmented and, because of that, carries less clout. Since the division, the Church has lost critical political battles, most notably failing to block a reproductive health bill promoting artificial contraception in 2012.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato, Neil Jerome Morales and Andrew R.C. Marshall in Manila and Philip Pullella at the Vatican; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Related on F&O:

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Island-building Inflames China-Philippines Dispute

Mabini Reef 2014

Earlier this year the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs released a series of photographs, which it said shows stages of China’s “reclamation” of land on Mabini Reef, also called Johnson South Reef, in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. Photo provided by Philippines government.

Pursuit of Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea is a major element in the drive by China’s Communist Party boss Xi Jinping to convince the population that the country is re-emerging as the world’s pre-eminent power, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe.. “The prospects are not good.”

An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims:

Not content with stealing other people’s territory, the Beijing government is now manufacturing islands to boost its insubstantial claim to ownership of the South China Sea.

The Philippines government has released aerial photographs of Chinese dredgers and construction teams pulling up millions of tonnes of sand and rock from the ocean floor to create islands on Johnson South Reef, which is claimed by the Manila government.

The new island is one of several being created by Beijing, and is within Manila’s 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone,” but about 800 kilometres from the nearest undisputed Chinese territory at Hainan Island.

China’s island manufacturing industry, using reefs and islets as bases on which to create territory, is the latest in a vigorous policy of territorial expansion being pursued by the new Beijing administration of President and Communist Party boss Xi Jinping. Since Xi came to power in late 2012, Beijing has been pushing an evermore aggressive and assertive policy over territorial disputes with its neighbours. In the East China Sea this has seen almost daily confrontations with the Japanese Coast Guards and Air Force around and over the Japanese-owned Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands. …. read China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims. (Log in first; subscription or day pass* required)

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Manthorpe: Echoes of pre-WWI in Chinese claims of airspace

As China ramps up its bellicose stance toward Japan and the United States with the imposition of an air defence zone over disputed territory, the imminent arrival of 2014 is mimicking the months before 1914, warns international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt:

In the early years of the 20th century, Germany saw that Britain had had to deploy the full weight of its empire to defeat the Afrikaners in the two Boer wars.

Berlin judged the days of Britain’s super power status were approaching their end. It launched an arms race and a flurry of provocations against Britain and its allies, which cascaded out of control into the First World War.

Beijing has made a similar judgement about the impending decline of the United States … read Manthorpe’s column here.*

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Manthorpe: Philippines politics still stormy after Haiyen

F&O international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the chaos that typhoon Haiyan made of  the Philippines’ presidential campaign. An excerpt: 

When aid arrived this week in the Philippines’ Capiz region devastated by typhoon Haiyan, some of it came in tasteful blue bags decorated in prominent white letters with the name of Vice-President Jejomar Binay and adorned with his official logo of office.

Social media in the Philippines went viral with criticism of Binay, calling him “epal” – someone constantly trying to draw attention to himself.

A stream of bitter messages accused him of using the horror of the typhoon …. read more*

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Wood: Philippines typhoon a taste of the future

For Chris Wood‘s family, the typhoon and aftermath that devastated the Philippines is personal: his nephew was  in its path. Only one brief text, after the storm passed, has provided reassurance that Leighton Wood and his family were fine.

Wood warns that unless we take action, many more families and communities will needlessly suffer freak weather events. “If Yolanda/Haiyan is not yet a smoking gun for climate change, it is where our climate is going, and our natural security policy responses are not keeping up,” writes Wood in today’s Natural Security column, then outlines what needs fixing. Excerpt:

I’ve spent a good deal of the last few days glued to the computer screen, sifting the internet for news from the Philippines. Not from any motive of disaster voyeurism (the armchair version of a new industry, ‘disaster tourism’), but searching specifically for any word from a place called Romblon.

F&O Chris's nephew, Philippines

Leighton Wood (L) and volunteers digging foundation for library in San Agustin, Romblon, Philippines (credit CERV)

Romblon is a tear-drop-shaped island about 16 km from top to bottom, located between larger islands roughly in the centre of the Philippine archipelago. The central ‘eye’ of Typhoon Yolanda (also called Haiyan) a monster 600 km from edge to edge, passed about 80 km south of Romblon’s only town, on the island’s northern tip.

That town is where my nephew, Leighton, and his family live. My brother’s younger son, for the last several years, has shuttled between Canada and the Philippines, schlepping drywall into construction sites in downtown Toronto to earn enough money to travel back to Romblon and continue to volunteer there. I saw him most recently a month ago, with his Philippina lady friend, visiting Canada briefly with her daughter before all three returned together to Romblon. He proudly showed me a video of the library he had helped build, by hand, in the town. When I asked, he told me it was across the road from, and perhaps a couple meters higher than, the ocean.

For hours, the only word was from the worst-hit city of Tacloban—about 330 km from Romblon. It was of utter devastation, scenes reminiscent of the wasteland left behind by the tsunami at Fukushima, Japan. Then there was dispiriting news about the failure of rescue teams to break through blocked roads to the afflicted town; relief convoys met by armed hijackers and mobs of looters. At last, reports from a shattered city; images of a mother protecting her child against the stench of 10,000 human corpses—and who knows how many animal ones—decomposing in the tropical heat.

This, I was thinking, is what happens when natural security fails … Read Needed: Better natural defences (subscription required).

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Take China’s threats against Taiwan seriously

This time, the world should pay attention to China’s threatening approach to Taiwan, warns Jonathan Manthorpe in his international affairs column today. An excerpt:

Xi Jinping is not the first modern Chinese leader to threaten the island nation of Taiwan with invasion if they do not soon agree to hand their sovereignty to the Beijing regime. 

Indeed, it has become a necessary ritual for Chinese leaders to establish their patriotic credentials by reiterating Beijing’s claim to own the island and its 23 million people.

Usually these pronouncements appear to be largely for domestic consumption, taking no account of the fact Taiwan has been an independent nation since 1949, and has made the difficult transition from a one-party state under martial law to a functional, boisterous democracy.

 Beijing has sometimes gone further than rhetorical bluster. In 1996 China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fired unarmed missiles into the sea on the approaches to Taiwan’s main ports, as the island’s people prepared to vote in their first free and fair presidential elections.

But context is everything in such matters.

The column is available with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription.

 

 

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