In a speech riddled with references to God and barbs at the Catholic Church, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his promise to eradicate drug abuse from the Philippines through an aggressive law enforcement campaign against drug traffickers. He also announced a ceasefire with a communist militia.
“Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly, that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in Court. And if the evidence warrants, they will have their day of reckoning, too,” Duterte told the audience at his first State of the Nation speech, referring to drug traffickers and the corrupt police who protect their trade.
“We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish,” he added.
Duterte won his election on an anti-drug platform, using his experience as a 22-year mayor of southern Davao City as evidence that he knew how to properly eliminate the threat of drug-fueled violent crime. An estimated 300 drug suspects have been killed since he took office in June, while another 43,000 have been “neutralized” in shootout scenarios. Approximately 60,000 Filipino drug addicts have flocked to the nation’s rehabilitation centers looking to cut their habits before Duterte’s police arrest or kill them.
Duterte addressed those availing themselves of addiction help, vowing to “prioritize the rehabilitation of drug users. We will increase the number of residential treatment and rehabilitation facilities in all regions of the country.” His conciliatory tone towards drug addicts represented a change from his typical promises to kill anyone who uses drugs.
He also noted that ending drug trafficking in the Philippines is an international venture. “The drug lords that you desperately want to strangle are not here,” he told the audience. “They’re cooking it in the international waters.” He asserted:
If we do not help from our friends here in Asia and America, and Europe — this year number and problem, believe me, will drown us as a Republic.” Duterte has personally named Chinese nationals he has evidence to consider responsible for major drug trafficking operations in the Philippines.
Duterte referred to the war against drug lords as “a mission to God,” one of many references in the speech to his Christian faith. “While I am a stickler for the principle of separation between church and state, I believe quite strongly that there should never be a separation between God and State,” he told the crowd to applause. Duterte took the time to challenge Catholic church leaders anyway, however, telling listeners, “To those of who are still drug-free, if you don’t want to die, if you don’t want to be hurt, don’t rely on those priests or to human rights. That won’t prevent your death. Just don’t do it [take drugs].” He has previously referred to human rights activists as “stupid” for challenging his calls for vigilante justice against drug lords and support of police violence against criminal enterprises.
Duterte’s call to ignore priests follows the Philippine church’s announcement of a new campaign against Duterte called “Thou Shall Not Kill,” intended to raise awareness of the families of those killed in anti-drug operations.
Duterte also used the speech that lasted longer than an hour to announce a unilateral ceasefire against the Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Party and the armed New People’s Army, Marxist militias still active in the country. “I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately,” he told the audience, “and call on our Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly.” The ceasefire follows the announcement of peace talks with those groups.
Notably excluded from peace talks is Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic State-affiliated jihadist organization operating mostly in Duterte’s native southern Mindanao island.