U.S. envoy on drugs: As ex-prosecutor, I understand Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said he understands Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's concern about the illegal drug trade, but stressed the need to investigate the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) linked to his anti-drug campaign.

"I've said this to President Duterte directly. As a former prosecutor – I was a prosecutor in Los Angeles before I joined the State Department – I fully understand why President Duterte is so worried about the drug problem, about corruption, about the crime problem in general," Kim said in a roundtable discussion with journalists on Tuesday, January 24.

On the other hand, Kim said, "While everybody acknowledges that there is this very serious drug problem, there's also a concern that some aspects of the anti-drug campaign have flaws."

"Rather than getting too deeply into the specific issue of EJKs, I think what's important is that there is actually an investigation of these killings," the ambassador told journalists, including Rappler executive editor and CEO Maria Ressa. 

Kim explained: "I think we all know that when you are engaged in a law enforcement effort, that there will be occasions when the law enforcement officials have to resort to force whether they want it or not. And the only way you know what happened is you conduct investigations."

The US ambassador issued this statement as Duterte's war on drugs has killed more than 7,000 people in less than 7 months. 

Referring to alleged human rights abuses, he added, "This is a concern for many people. So I think it's a mistake to try to portray this as a US versus Philippines issue."

"I think sometimes there's this misperception that only Americans or Westerners care about values like due process and human rights. But you know that's not true. The Philippines is a great example of a democratic country that actually cares about these values," he added. 

Kim replaced Ambassador Philip Goldberg, whom Duterte slammed for criticizing one of his rape jokes during the campaign period. Under former US president Barack Obama, the US also earned Duterte's ire for criticizing the Philippine president's drug war.

Kim was also the former US special representative for North Korea policy. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of 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 him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.