Duterte gives ‘shoot to kill’ troublemakers order: How they covered it

President Rodrigo Duterte walks past the honor guardsPresident Rodrigo Duterte walks past the honor guards. Photo: PCOO EDP

A look at how the media responded to one of the biggest stories of the week.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte made global headlines earlier this week when he used a public address to order his police force to shoot dead anybody causing trouble when they should be in lockdown.  His comments followed protests across the country over the government’s response to the coronavirus and insufficient food and financial aid. Here is how the region’s media covered one of the biggest stories of the week.

Duterte’s order is illegal and likely won’t be carried out

“My orders are to the police and military, as well as village officials, if there is any trouble, or occasions where there’s violence and your lives are in danger, shoot them dead,” Duterte said.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) confirmed that threatening to shoot those violating quarantine is illegal. “Even in times of a national health emergency, due process and the rule of law still apply,” CHR lawyer Jacqueline de Guia told GMA News.

Rappler’s Tony La Viña and Joy Reyes made the same point. “This statement—as with his previous statements regarding shooting to kill – is unconstitutional,” they wrote. “Without due process in the form of a fair proceeding where both sides are given the opportunity to air out their concerns, the right of a person to his life, liberty, and property reigns supreme, and is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.”

Then came the clarification that the police will not follow his orders to the letter. “Probably the President just overemphasised on implementing the law in this time of crisis,” commented Philippine National Police Chief Archie Gamboa, as quoted by The Straits Times.

“Don’t worry, the Philippine National Police assured the public yesterday – President Duterte was simply stressing a point,” read an editorial in The Philippine Star.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

Groups quickly condemned his order

Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) were quick to react, urging Duterte to tone down his rhetoric. “Deadly, unchecked force should never be used in an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said AI’s Philippine Section Director Butch Olano.

Jodesz Gavilan, writing for Rappler, carried quotes from HRW’s Carlos Conde calling for the government to stop threatening people and instead do more to help those in need. “Duterte may feel exasperated by the incidents of people breaking curfew regulations but he has to understand that, for the poor affected by this crisis, it is a matter of survival,” he said.

And what of the militant groups Duterte believes are behind the problems? Even they were unimpressed. “Rather than make threats, the President should just deliver the aid sought by the people,” The Inquirer quoted Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the Bayan militant group as saying. “[Help not arrest] is the people’s cry.”

Duterte and his government took criticism from all quarters

JC Punongbayan, a teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics, wrote a column for Rappler in which he claimed that aid is not reaching people fast enough. He outlined problems with Duterte’s stimulus package, highlighting issues such as where the money will come from and how it will be distributed.

“At the end of the day, money is not really the issue here. There should be more than enough sources of emergency funds… today we’re enduring two types of crises: one in public health, another in governance,” he concluded. “Unsettlingly, I can’t tell which is worse now.”

The Twitter hashtag #OustDuterteNow trended in the hours immediately following his comments. Writing for Interaksyon, Catalina Ricci S. Madarang noted that Duterte blamed ‘leftists’ who he believes are sabotaging the government’s efforts to distribute aid.

She also highlighted tweets by Filipinos calling for more transparency from their government and those fearing that Duterte would use the crisis as an excuse to declare martial law.

Inday Espina-Varona, writing a piece for ABS-CBN criticised Duterte’s response to COVID-19, calling him “bankrupt in governance skills”. She concluded, “Duterte barks out orders to kill and blames politicians to cover up his failure of governance… In Duterte’s Philippines, people will die. The only question is which comes first—death by COVID-19, death by hunger or death by bullets.”

Meanwhile, The Philippine Star’s editorial closed by taking a swipe at both Duterte and those causing trouble, making the point that getting aid to everybody in these difficult times is hard enough as it is.

It concluded with a call for all to work together to overcome the crisis. “Exploiting a serious national emergency to advance a different agenda is condemnable. The battle cry must be taken to heart by all: we heal as one.”

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