Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte received 228 policemen accused of corruption and misconduct at Manila’s presidential palace Tuesday, berating the men in a live broadcast in which he invited the policemen to challenge him to a duel and ordered them to serve in the Muslim-majority south of the country.
“Are you angry at me? Wait until I finish my term as President. Let’s have a gunfight, damn you,” Duterte told the police officers, organized in rows in front of him before the Malacanang palace.
“I will not think twice. You will be the next victims of extrajudicial killings,” Duterte told them, warning, “Don’t dare me to a gunfight (because) I will not back down, you sons of bitches.” Duterte spoke to the audience mostly in Tagalog, using a profane phrase translated as both “son of a bitch” and “son of a whore.” The president famously hurled this insult at President Barack Obama and Pope Francis on multiple occasions. In other notable parts of a nationally-televised address the Philippine Inquirer described as a “profanity-laden outburst… [for which] the searing mid-afternoon heat was no match,” Duterte told the police officers assembled before him:
I know the culture of the police. Two out of five policemen have two wives. That’s your problem. When you are in uniform, have your gun and your badge, you act as if you’re somebody. You think highly of yourselves.
You remain standing there. Wait for me because I will speak to you again later. You sons of bitches. I will throw water at you… If I see somebody relaxing, I will kick you. Try me…
I’m not a weak leader chosen by the rich in Metro Manila. I was voted by the people.
Duterte assigned the men assembled to police work in Basilan, a southern region known as a hotbed of radical Islamic violence and the stomping grounds of Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State affiliate in the Philippines. “I will send you to Basilan, live there for 2 years. If you get out alive, you can return here. If you die there, I will tell the police not to spend anything to bring you back here but to bury you there,” Duterte announced.
Duterte has expressed such concern with Abu Sayyaf strongholds that he has previously demanded American troops withdraw from the nation’s south due to the presence of “whites” in the region, a term Duterte has used for Middle Eastern Muslims.
ABC News reports that the men chosen to stand in front of Duterte and receive the scolding “are accused of a range of administrative and criminal offenses, including extortion and illegal arrests.” Upon assuming office, Duterte gave police a mandate to completely eradicate drug crime that included the endorsement of extrajudicial killing. The national war on drugs came to a crashing halt at the end of January, after police abducted and killed South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo. After killing Jee, Philippine police officers told his family he was alive and demanded a ransom.
Following the Jee incident, Duterte announced that the new focus of the police force would be in removing corrupt police officers. “Cleanse your ranks. Review their cases. Give me a list of who the scalawags are,” Duterte demanded in late January. While Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa offered to resign after Jee’s killing, Duterte kept him on board for the task of disciplining the police. “We will cleanse our ranks… then maybe after that, we can resume our war on drugs,” dela Rosa said of the new initiative.
Dela Rosa has publicly expressed embarrassment at the Jee incident and other corrupt acts by police. On Tuesday, the police chief reiterated that stance: “As I have said, I will do anything to clean the PNP. I don’t care if they will be put to shame. If they are embarrassed, I am more embarrassed because I am the (PNP) chief. It means I’m a bad egg like my subordinates.”
While police rehabilitate their ranks, the drug war has transferred over to the Philippine legislature. Senator Manny Pacquiao — better known in the West as a boxing champion — has submitted for debate a bill that would impose capital punishment on “certain dangerous drugs crimes and… kidnapping, and the heinous crime of aggravated rape.”
“Drug traffickers are aggressive. They take advantage of our vulnerabilities, but various news reports reveal that we are not taking this without a fight,” Pacquiao said while supporting his bill. “We cannot ignore the immensity of the drug problem in our country. We cannot maintain the status quo.”