Two U.S. lawmakers slam Duterte in drug war hearing

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Two U.S. lawmakers slam Duterte in drug war hearing
'I certainly believe, very strongly, that a man with the human rights record of President Duterte should not be invited to the White House,' a US lawmaker says

MANILA, Philippines – Two US lawmakers slammed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a hearing on Thursday, July 20, about alleged abuses in the war on drugs waged by the Philippine government. 

US Congressman James McGovern, who represents the 2nd district of Massachusetts, vowed to “lead the protest” in case Duterte comes to visit the White House. 

Also “troubled” by Duterte’s invitation to the White House, US Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California’s 14th district said Duterte’s “abuses” should be condemned by US President Donald Trump and the US Congress.

McGovern and Speier spoke at a hearing conducted by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress in Washington DC on Thursday.

McGovern is co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, along with Congressman Randy Hultgren of the 14th district of Illinois, who also hosted Thursday’s hearing.

“President Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights,” McGovern said.

“And I certainly believe, very strongly, that a man with the human rights record of President Duterte should not be invited to the White House. And if he comes, I will lead the protest because, again, we ought to be on the side of advocating for human rights, not explaining them away,” McGovern said. 

McGovern pointed out that the “explosion of killings” over the past year, and Duterte’s statements “inciting and justifying” these murders, “have rightly drawn attention and indignation.”

“The United States government cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring,” he said.

“No other country – I repeat that, ‘no other country’ – comes to mind where people are assassinated on the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing,” he added. 

‘State-sanctioned vigilantism’

In her own remarks, Speier mentioned that her district is home to the largest Filipino community in the continental US.

Speier said she has heard “increasing concerns” from her constituents “appalled” by alleged human rights violations in the Philippines. 

Speier then hit US President Donald Trump for inviting Duterte to the White House.

“Mr Duterte’s murderous extrajudicial campaign has drawn condemnation from around the world – except from President Trump, who has had a ‘very friendly’ conversation with the man who once said, ‘I don’t care about human rights,’ and who called President Obama a ‘son of a whore’ for speaking out against atrocities President Duterte has committed against his own people,” she said.

'DERANGED POLICY.' US Congresswoman Jackie Speier says President Rodrigo Duterte's 'campaign of vigilantism' is 'unacceptable in a modern society.' Screen grab from video by TLHRC

“We need to call this deranged policy out for its state-sanctioned vigilantism that contravenes the rule of law and damages the international standing of the Philippines,” Speier said.

While saying she is proud to have the Philippines as one of the US’ closest allies, she is also “deeply concerned that this great country is falling prey to bloody demagoguery.”

“President Duterte’s campaign of vigilantism and extrajudicial execution is unacceptable in a modern society,” Speier said.

“It is critical that both Congress and the President condemn President Duterte’s unacceptable human rights abuses in the strongest possible terms and to take concrete action to ensure that the United States is not enabling these practices,” she added.

‘Human rights are fundamental’

In the same hearing, Hultgren pointed out that the Philippines “is a valuable ally of the United States and is the largest recipient of United States’ assistance in East Asia.” 

“For this reason, it is paramount that human rights violations are not an unintended consequence of the war on drugs,” Hultgren said.

“Human rights are fundamental. Every person is born with dignity. As such, they should be afforded the protection and due process of the law,” he added.

McGovern, Speier, and Hultgren took turns speaking in Thursday’s hearing, while the following 3 panelists testified before them:

  • Ellecer Carlos, spokesperson, iDEFEND, Philippines
  • Matthew Wells, senior crisis advisor, Amnesty International
  • Phelim Kine, deputy director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

Hours before the hearing on Thursday, Malacañang urged US lawmakers to consider “all sides” of the issue. “Insinuations and hasty judgements have no place in due process,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

The hearing comes after two US senators in May filed a bill restricting the export of certain weapons and equipment from the US to the Philippine National Police as a consequence of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

Duterte has said he detests US officials who supposedly interfere in his anti-drug campaign, even as he is warming relations with Trump, whom he calls a “deep thinker.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email