Salvador Panelo, spokesman for President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, defended his boss on Friday, asserting that it was “not a crime” and is constitutional for Duterte to order national police to respond to people violating Chinese coronavirus quarantines by “shoot[ing] them dead.”
Duterte, an avid supporter of extrajudicial killings, has approved the use of deadly force by police and national guard against citizens on multiple occasions in the past, typically against suspected drug criminals. Duterte won the 2016 presidential election on a promise to lower skyrocketing drug use rates in the country and eliminate drug trafficking syndicates. As mayor of southern Davao City for over 20 years, Duterte significantly reduced the city’s crime rate.
“The President is tasked by the Constitution to enforce it and the laws of the land. Transgressors will suffer the consequences of their violations as imposed by law,” Panelo, who has regularly defended similar statements from the president, told reporters on Friday, according to the Asian news outlet Coconuts. “Threatening violators and enemies of the state with deathly violence is not a crime. The law allows the use of lethal violence when the person’s life using it hangs on balance. That is a universal law anchored on the principle of self-preservation.”
Panelo noted that Duterte’s remark to “shoot them dead” was in part a response to leftist activists who had begun clamoring for aid to poorer people in areas affected by the strictest lockdown. Duterte ordered a total lockdown of Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island and the one where Manila is located, in March. The Philippines has also banned entry to foreign nationals to prevent more exposure to the virus.
Duterte, Panelo said, was “putting an end to a contemplated and threatened violence by those who disturb the status quo that will certainly result in the destruction of lives and properties. By so doing, the President is protecting the lives and human rights of those people placed in imminent danger thereof.”
“The President is mandated to call the armed forced to prevent or suppress lawless violence. In issuing the warning to the Left as well as to those who instigate riots and violence, he is merely reminding them that the government is ready to forcibly quell any unrest and disturbance that threaten public safety, specially at this time of national emergency,” Coconuts quoted Panelo as saying.
After repeated threats of riots to demand more money from the federal government, Duterte made the shocking announcement on Wednesday that police had his permission to kill people “causing trouble” during quarantine.
“I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military, also the barangay [district officials], that if there is trouble or the situation arises that people fight and your lives are on the line, shoot them dead,” Duterte said. “Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave.”
A week after Luzon announced its shutdown, police officials revealed they had arrested hundreds of people violating quarantine rules, including public officials. Police work to keep people obeying the quarantines in their respective territories has suffered as national-level politicians violate them. Among the highest-profile and most egregious violations was that of Senator Aquilino Pimentel, who was placed on a precautionary quarantine but violated it to attend his child’s birth at a local hospital. He tested positive for Chinese coronavirus the next day, meaning he had exposed a maternity ward unnecessarily to the pathogen.
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque admitted the reporters that the federal government had also been distributing difficult-to-get coronavirus testing kits to people he defined as “VIP,” prompting popular outrage.
Duterte has repeatedly threatened his people with extrajudicial killing since taking office.
“When you kill criminals, that is not a crime against humanity. The criminals have no humanity. God damn it,” Duterte said in one 2017 speech. “There will be many more killings. They are really fighting.”
At the time he promised extrajudicial killings would be encouraged “as long as there is a drug pusher and a drug lord.”
That same year, he told police during a speech in Manila, “Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting … you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you.”
A year later, referring to communist terrorist organizations, Duterte offered an alternative to killing criminals: “Tell the soldiers, ‘There’s a new order coming from the mayor [Duterte]. We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina.'”