Duterte on 75th anniversary of Leyte landing: Filipinos still at war vs illegal drugs

LEYTE, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte was absent from the activities here on Sunday, October 20, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the landing of American and Filipino forces on the Leyte Gulf.

But it was still an opportunity for him to talk about his administration’s war on drugs through his National Security Adiviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon.

“Today, the Filipino people are still at war. Not against colonial or imperial forces of the past, but against the menace of criminality, illegal drugs, corruption, poverty, terrorism and extensive environmental degradation,” Esperon said, reading the President's prepared speech.

In the audience were dozens of surviving Filipino and American World War II veterans who are in their late 80s and 90s.

“As it was America’s moral obligation to defend the Philippines 75 years ago, it is now our moral obligation to eliminate these problems for our society if we are to be a truly free and progressive nation,” Esperon, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, read.

“Let me therefore take this occasion to remind everyone to remain vigilant against these threats especially against terrorism and violent extremism,” Duterte's statement added.

United States Chargé d'Affaires John C. Law said in an interview that the United States is cooperating with the Philippines, at least in its fight against terrorism. 

“There is a violent extremist insurgency that wants to kill people, that wants to undermine Philippine democracy, that wants to do any number of terrible things against the people of Mindanao and all its allies,” Law said.

While the United States’ government has  been critical on alleged human rights abuses in Philippines’ war on drugs, its military relationship has remained mostly unchanged. 

In April 2019, the US and Philippines held its annual Balikatan excercises.

On Monday, October 15, the Philippines, US and Japan held joint military drills near the West Philippine Sea off the island of Palawan.  (READ: Philippines, U.S., Japan hold military drills near West PH Sea)

But Duterte’s statement said that more than military conflict, “social ills” are what hinder the development of the country today. 

“Keep in mind that it’s only through our bravery and love of country that we can attain genuine liberation from the ills that have plagued our society for so long,” the statement read.

Connecting the landing at Leyte Gulf with his administration’s campaign against drugs and crime, the President concluded: “May this historic commemoration serve as a reminder to face every challenge with courage and fortitude. As citizens of a nation proud of its glorious past, let us all work together in dreaming of a more promising future.”  – Rappler.com

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.