President-elect Rodrigo Duterte does not endorse extra-judicial killings of journalists, his spokesman said on Saturday in reaction to scathing criticism from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In a statement, incoming presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo claimed that the UN chief believed “incorrect news reports” when he denounced Duterte’s apparent approval of summary executions.
“It is unfortunate that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has issued a statement condemning what he perceives to be an endorsement by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of extra-judicial killings. Obviously, the UN Secretary-General believed the incorrect news reports that gave rise to such wrong perception,” Panelo said.
“The President-elect has not endorsed — cannot — and will never endorse extra-judicial killings, they being contrary to law,” he added.
In a speech in New York on Wednesday, Ban said he was “extremely disturbed” by Duterte’s remarks, voicing particular concern over his comments seen as justifying killing journalists.
“I unequivocally condemn his apparent endorsement of extra-judicial killing, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms. Such comments are of particular concern in light of ongoing impunity for serious cases of violence against journalists in the Philippines,” he added.
Ban’s statement came after Duterte told two UN rights and summary- execution experts to “go home and get some sleep.”
Special Rapporteur on summary executions Cristof Heyns and Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye scored the incoming Philippine President’s recent statements on media killings.
Duterte said the comments of the two UN experts were made on the wrong premise.
Panelo reiterated that Duterte “does not condone the killing of journalists” and noted that the country’s new leader “chastises media persons who practice irresponsible journalism.”
“His utterances on media killings were reported incorrectly giving rise to the wrong perception that he was encouraging lawless violence,” he said.
The spokesman added that under no circumstances will Duterte deviate from his constitutional duty to enforce the law.
“The President-elect reiterates his fealty to the Constitution as well as his determination to suppress criminality in any form. Under a Duterte presidency, the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the Constitution shall be in full bloom,” Panelo said.
Duterte won last month’s elections by a landslide largely because of an explosive law-and-order platform in which he pledged to end crime within six months by killing tens of thousands of suspected criminals.
He has since offered large bounties to security forces as well as the general public to kill drug traffickers.
Duterte, who takes office on June 30, told reporters last week that journalists who took bribes or engaged in other corrupt activities were legitimate targets of assassination.
“Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch,” he said.
Duterte cited the case of Jun Pala, a journalist and politician whose 2003 murder, like those of scores of other journalists killed in the Philippines, has never been solved.
“I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it,” he said.
His comments sparked outrage from local and foreign media groups, who warned that his rhetoric could incite more murders in one of the world’s most dangerous nations for reporters.
One of the deadliest attacks against journalists happened in the Philippines in 2009, when 32 journalists were among 58 people killed by a warlord clan bent on stopping a rival’s election challenge.
More than 100 people are on trial for the massacre, including many members of the Ampatuan family accused of orchestrating it.
Panelo was the Ampatuans’ defense lawyer until last year.
Duterte was previously linked to vigilante “death squads” that rights groups say killed more than 1,000 people in the southern city of Davao, which he has ruled as mayor for most of the past two decades.