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The Philippines anti-drug campaign has drawn international condemnation ever since the tough-on-crime president Rodrigo Duterte took office last summer. The barbarism of his tactics prompted the UN to express concern over human rights abuses and the extrajudicial killings of more than 9,000 drug users and dealers during his brief tenure.

However, this state of affairs has not swayed President Trump from cozying up to the Filipino strongman, who he invited to the White House during an impromptu phone call on Apr. 30 (Trump phoned Duterte). The two had “a very friendly conversation,” the White House explained about the call in a statement. “They also discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world.”

Human Rights Watch Asian advocacy director John Sifton was aghast. “By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous War on Drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” he told Reuters. “Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

In another worrisome development, on Feb. 23, one of Duterte’s fiercest critics, Sen. Leila de Lima was arrested and charged with taking bribes from drug traffickers. She vehemently denied the accusations and said the charges are an attempt by Duterte to silence a political opponent.

“It’s my honor to be imprisoned for the things I am fighting for,” she told reporters. “They will not be able to silence me and stop me from fighting for the truth and justice and against the daily killings and repression by the Duterte regime.”

The government has signaled a wider crackdown, bringing in the military to work on drug enforcement efforts. Duterte’s allies in Congress are also pushing a bill that would allow police to target children as young as nine years old.

Meanwhile, on Apr. 18, two senior officials challenged the government’s account of the drug war. Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, they described police carrying out extrajudicial killings and receiving cash payments for doing so. A police commander said he agreed to speak out because he was upset that the campaign was targeting low-level suspects. “Why aren’t they killing the suppliers?” one official asked. “Only the poor are dying.”

The other official called the Philippines National Police a “killing machine (that) must be buried six feet under the ground.”

There have been other sources of pushback within the country. Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court, asking it to investigate the “continuing mass murder” in the country. The communication included the names of various top officials. Some senators have spoken out against the president for offering to pardon policemen who are convicted of murder.

Last year, a South Korean businessman was killed at a police headquarters. He had been kidnapped and murdered by anti-drug law enforcement who tried to collect ransom money from his family. His death prompted Duterte to temporarily suspend anti-drug activity in an effort to “cleanse” the police force of corruption. About a month later, Duterte brought back some police to resume their anti-drug terror campaign that keeps claiming lives.

This post was originally published at Check out Freedom Leaf magazine for this editor’s Word on the Tree column.

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