Trudeau may raise ‘drug war’ killings with Philippines’ Duterte at ASEAN meeting

Leaders attend a photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam. Pictured top right is Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at centre. (Jorge Silva/AP Photo)
Nov. 11, 2017

Anti-drug campaign has left 7,000 Filipinos dead; PM to meet with ASEAN leaders Sunday


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the APEC summit today destined for the Philippines, a country governed by a populist leader with a penchant for violence who is in the midst of a sweeping “war” against alleged drug lords.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has endorsed a bloody campaign that has left an estimated 7,000 people dead since June 2016, a figure that includes some low-level dealers and addicts.

Duterte maintains tough police action — eliminating crime by eliminating criminals — is necessary to restore order to a country that has seen a surge in drug-related violence. Before being elected president, Duterte foreshadowed his crime-fighting intentions.

“If by chance that God will place me there, watch out because 1,000 [people allegedly executed when he was mayor of Davao City] will become 100,000. You will see the fish in Manila Bay getting fat. That is where I will dump you,” he said.

When asked Saturday if he would raise concerns with Duterte on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, a smaller group of southeast Asian countries, Trudeau said it’s possible, but he didn’t go so far as to condemn the Filipino president.

“There are a range of issues that I could bring up with him, and I may bring [the killings] up with him if I have the opportunity, but there is no formal meeting with him,” he told reporters Saturday.

“There’s always human rights concerns to bring up with a wide range of leaders,” he said.

Canada looks to ASEAN trade deal

Human rights abuses are not Canada’s only interests at the ASEAN forum in Manila — the country also hopes to improve economic relations with ASEAN, a group that counts Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar among its members.

In September, Canada and ASEAN member states launched exploratory talks to examine the potential for a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement. Public consultations are currently underway on a deal that could give Canada access to the Asian-Pacific market should the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks go south.

Joshua Brown, the head of the Canada-ASEAN Business Council, said there could be an opening now for Canada in the region, with U.S. President Donald Trump leading a “retrenchment” of sorts.

“That political event [the U.S. drift towards isolation] is creating opportunities for us that we should take advantage of,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

The ASEAN market countries have “huge populations with increasingly large middle classes that are hungry for the types of high-quality products that Canada produces,” he said.

But Trudeau has said trade deals are about much more than lowering tariffs, he also wants to see “progressive” elements, and a commitment to human rights from potential partners — which is what makes the wave of questionable killings in the Philippines, one of ASEAN’s largest members, so potentially problematic for Canada.

Killings legal: Duterte’s aides

Duterte’s aides insist all such killings are legal — or have been carried out by “vigilantes” with no ties to the president — while vowing to continue the anti-drug campaign until the end of his presidential term in 2022.

And yet lawmakers from the European Union believe there are “credible reports” that the Philippine police force has been falsifying evidence to justify extrajudicial killings that overwhelmingly target the urban poor. The EU has also said human rights activists and journalists critical of Duterte have faced regular threats, harassment, intimidation and cyber bullying.


Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, arrested on drug charges, waves to supporters as she arrives to appear before a local court in Muntinlupa, Philippines, last month. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

Senator Leila de Lima, a Filipino politician who has condemned Duterte’s efforts, was herself charged with drug traffickingafter speaking publicly in opposition to the brutality, charges the EU believes are bogus.

Human Rights Watch has pursued its own investigation and said it found inconsistencies in some police reports, namely instances where police asserted self-defence to justify their actions, “contrary to eyewitness accounts that portray the killings as cold-blooded murders.”

And, earlier this year, a complaint was filed in the International Criminal Court against Duterte, claiming the president has “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committed extra-judicial executions or mass murders over his three decades in public office, amounting to crimes against humanity.

Trudeau said Canada does not shy away from some states when there are human rights concerns, preferring dialogue and encouragement over isolation. “We’ve demonstrated that we engage constructively with all sorts of people around the world,” he said.

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