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Philippines rejects US intel community’s criticism of Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Davao City, in the southern island of Mindanao, the Philippines, on February 9, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Philippines’ presidential spokesman has rejected a recent official US intelligence assessment that refers to President Rodrigo Duterte as a threat to democracy in Southeast Asia.

“I do not think that’s true. He (Duterte) is a lawyer, he knows the law, he wants to uphold the rule of law, he knows about the bill of rights,” Harry Roque said on Wednesday, adding that Duterte was concerned about the US intelligence report.

“We view this declaration from no less than the intelligence department of the United States with some concern...,” Roque further said during an interview with the Philippines’ Manila-based DZMM radio.

The report — titled ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment’ and produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — points to Duterte together with Cambodia’s Hun Sen, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and Thailand’s military-backed constitution as elements that undermine what the US spy agencies refer to as “democratic values.”

According to the assessment by the US intelligence community, dated February 13, democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian nations “will remain fragile in 2018 as autocratic tendencies deepen in some regimes and rampant corruption and cronyism undermine democratic values.”

“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime,” the report, prepared by Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, reads.

It further says that the Philippine president has suggested he could suspend the constitution and declare “a revolutionary government and impose nationwide martial law.”

The US intelligence report also expresses concerns about China’s rising influence in the region, claiming that countries in Southeast Asia “will struggle to preserve foreign policy autonomy in the face of Chinese economic and diplomatic coercion.”

This file photo, taken on October 3, 2017, shows a woman grieving over the dead body of her son, an alleged drug user killed by unidentified assailants, in Manila, the Philippines. (By AFP)

This is not the first time Washington has censured Duterte, who grew furious over criticism by former US president Barack Obama’s administration regarding his trademark war on drugs, which has reportedly killed thousands of presumed criminals.

According to Western press reports, more than 4,000 people have been killed in counter-narcotics operations across the Philippines against suspected drug dealers and users under the Duterte’s war on drugs since July 2016.

Rights groups have accused Philippine police of shooting to kill in their counter-narcotics ops, but law-enforcement authorities reject such allegations. So does Duterte.

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