Duterte calls for ‘drug-free’ Asean

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Tells outsiders not to interfere

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte called on Southeast Asian leaders Saturday to band together to quash the illegal drug menace, or else risk the destruction of their societies, as he reiterated the region’s policy of non-interference in each country’s internal affairs.

HONEYLET’S DEBUT Cielito ‘Honeylet’ Avanceña holds hands with her partner, President Rodrigo Duterte, at the Philippine International Convention Center, as they await leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Avanceña toured spouses of the regional leaders at the National Museum. PHOTO BY ROGER RAÑADA

“We must also be resolute in realizing a drug-free Asean. The scourge of illegal drugs threatens our gains in community-building. I have seen how illegal drugs have ended the hopes, dreams, future and even lives of countless people, especially the youth,” Duterte said in a speech to open the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders’ summit in Manila.

“The illegal drug trade apparatus is massive. But it is not impregnable. With political will and cooperation, it can be dismantled, it can be destroyed before it destroys our societies,” he added.

This week’s Asean meetings saw the adoption of the “Asean Work Plan on Securing Communities Against Illicit Drugs 2016-2025” to address illegal drug activities. Authorities are also crafting the “Asean Cooperation Plan to Tackle Illicit Drug Production and Trafficking in the Golden Triangle 2017 to 2019.”

Regional leaders lauded the 10-nation bloc’s narcotics cooperation center for “identifying early warning signs of emerging drug problems as well as establishing information networks,” and information sharing and intelligence exchange efforts by airport and seaport interdiction task forces.

‘Mutual respect’

Amid international condemnation for his own crackdown on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives, Duterte insisted on Saturday that outsiders should not interfere in Southeast Asia’s affairs.

“Let me say again, relations bear fruit when they are based on mutual respect and benefit. Dialogue relations can be made more productive and constructive if the valued principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of Asean member states is observed,” Duterte told his fellow Asean leaders.

Duterte had last year branded then US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore” for criticizing the drug war, and more recently called European lawmakers “crazies” for issuing a statement condemning the killings.

Duterte was elected last year largely on a law-and-order platform in which he promised to eradicate illegal drugs in the Philippines by killing drug traders. Police have since reported killing 2,724 people as part of his anti-drug campaign.

Many thousands of others have been killed by shadowy vigilantes, according to rights groups.

A Filipino lawyer filed a complaint this week against Duterte at the International Criminal Court, accusing him of “mass murder” and alleging that as many as 8,000 people had died in the drug war.

Duterte has relentlessly railed against criticism of his drug war, which Amnesty International and other rights groups have warned may amount to a crime against humanity.

He said last year he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of addicts in his quest to stop the Philippines from becoming a narco-state, and repeatedly insisted human rights should not stand in the way of eradicating drugs.

‘Club of dictators or rights abusers’

Observers said in the lead-up to the summit that Asean leaders were unlikely to criticize Duterte, with Human Rights Watch calling the bloc “a club of cozy dictators or rights abusers.”

Among the heads of undemocratic regimes in Manila were Thai military junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, Cambodia’s Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.

Some ASEAN leaders expressed support for Duterte and his drug war.

“We also share your country’s concerns on the devastating effects of drugs upon society and I understand your personal resolve in combating it,” Bolkiah said as Duterte hosted him at the Malacañan presidential palace on Thursday.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose government has executed drug traffickers, expressed his personal affection for Duterte because they had “so much in common.”

“I believe that you and I are not fancy people. I believe that you and I are driven by healthy common sense and by love for our people,” Widodo said on Friday.

Many Filipinos also continue to support Duterte’s drug war, believing that extreme measures must be taken to solve the drug menace.

with AFP

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