BEIJING — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is ending his first year in power the same way he began it — with a call for crackdowns at any cost.
Duterte swept to power on a promise to kill all drug users in the Philippines and eliminate drug use in a matter of months. Then in May, a flare-up of violence involving entrenched Islamist factions in the southern Philippines prompted him to declare martial law on the island of Mindanao.
An estimated 9,000 people have been killed in his first year in office, earning him warnings of an investigation by the International Criminal Court and testing the Philippines’ close ties with the United States.
The deaths, rights groups say, occurred in late-night police raids with few witnesses or in shootings by masked gunmen on motorbikes often targeting people whom police had identified as suspects.
In a statement ahead of the first anniversary Friday of Duterte’s presidency, Human Rights Watch called his rule a “human rights calamity.”
On Wednesday, as Philippine soldiers fought militants in the besieged southern city of Marawi on Mindanao, Duterte told troops to shoot without fear of consequence. Soldiers should not “hesitate to engage just because there are civilians,” he said. “It is the duty of civilians to flee or seek cover.”
“We will face charges, sometimes massacre,” he said. “You know a bullet hits through and through; one squeeze of the Armalite [rifle], it bursts out about three, four. Keep on pressing it.”
Duterte recently made headlines for rallying soldiers by talking about rape. He later claimed it was a joke.
His latest comments were made as Washington and Beijing step into the battle against extremist groups operating in the southern Philippines.
The fighting in Marawi on Duterte’s home island of Mindanao has left about 400 dead.
Although Duterte vowed early in his term to expel U.S. Special Operations forces from Mindanao, he has yet to do so. The U.S. military reportedly sent a P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft to Marawi at the request of the Philippine military.
Now China is stepping in.
On Wednesday, at a ceremony at a former U.S. air base north of Manila, Beijing presented Duterte’s government with 3,000 Chinese-made assault and sniper rifles and about 6 million bullets.
“The donation is not big, but it is big in the sense that it marks a new era of relations between our two militaries, and it comes at the right time,” said the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua. “This is only the beginning,” he added.
The rush to fund Duterte’s fight in Marawi comes despite widespread international criticism of his government’s human rights record, most notably his calls to slaughter drug suspects.
“President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “But [he] has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign.”