Duterte killing of suspects not illegal – Aguirre

MANILA, Philippines – After another statement from President Rodrigo Duterte that he personally killed drug suspects, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II defended his boss anew, saying he did not violate the law.

"He must have been forced to kill," Aguirre told reporters on Wednesday, December 14, after attending an executive session in the Senate.

"Wala, hindi nangangahulugang porke pumatay ka ng suspect, may violation ng laws. It could be done in a justifiable cause; justifiable circumstances as public officer or you’re ordered to arrest pero lumaban 'yung suspect," he added, echoing the official reason for the death of alleged drug users and pushers in police operations.

(It's nothing, just because you killed a suspect that does not mean you violated laws. It could be done in a justifiable cause; justifiable circumstances as public officer or you're ordered to arrest but the suspect fought back.)

Just hours after denying he was a killer, Duterte told businessmen at a forum in Malacañang on Monday that he killed alleged drug users and pushers while he was mayor of Davao City. This was not the first time the President announced such acts. (READ: Duterte on killings: Do you think I enjoy that?)

"I know it because – I am not trying to pull my own chair – in Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the [police] that if I can do it, why can't you?" Duterte said during the Wallace Business Forum in the Palace.

"I go around in Davao [on] a big bike and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble. I was really looking for an encounter to kill," he said.

Senate witness Edgar Matobato had made the same allegation against Duterte, accusing him of participating in the summary execution of some victims of the so-called Davao Death Squad when he was mayor. (READ: Matobato files murder, kidnapping charges vs Duterte)

Hyperbole?

Aguirre believed that Duterte was just exaggerating – again. Each time Duterte gives a controversial statement on extrajudicial killings, Palace officials and other administration allies dismiss them as mere "hyperbole."

"Eh sinabi naman niya 'yun noong nakaraang kampanya pa, parating hyperbole 'yan si Presidente, parating exaggerated, just to put his message across (He said that during the campaign. The President is full of hyperboles, he always exaggerates just to put his message across)," Aguirre said.

"Pero puwede naman 'yan. Hindi ba may sinabi siya na parang binaril niya 'yung nagkidnap, nagrape gawa nang 'yung may mga baril sila eh, to disable them. Sinabi niya 'yun (But that's possible. Remember he said before that he shot a kidnapper and rapist, as they were armed, to disable them. He said that)," he added, referring to Duterte's killing of convicts who raped and killed an Australian missionary in Davao City.

Duterte has been vocal about his hardline stance against illegal drugs which he had predicted to be "bloody." His campaign threats to kill drug users were not rhetorical, he said. (READ: Shoot to kill? Duterte's statements on killing drug users)

Since he assumed office, the Philippines has seen the concrete evidence of that statement: thousands have been killed in Duterte's bloody war on drugs, many yet unexplained. (READ: 'Nanlaban sila': Duterte's war on drugs)

In May, shortly after winning the elections, Duterte said he would give security forces "shoot to kill" orders against those who resist arrest. He had also said that he would pardon cops convicted for killing criminals and civilians in the line of duty. Last Monday, though, he warned cops and soldiers that he would shoot them if they kill innocents.

As of December 12, there have been over 5,900 deaths, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings. (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' 'war on drugs'– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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