The Palace scrambled Friday to explain President Rodrigo Duterte’s remark in a speech Thursday that his “only sin” was extrajudicial killings.
“Well, you know the President. What he said was not serious. He only said that because that’s the usual thing they always accuse him of,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque in a radio interview.
“That’s just the President being himself and being playful, highlighting the point that he’s not corrupt,” he added.
During an oathtaking ceremony in Malacañang Thursday night, Duterte seemed to admit to orchestrating extrajudicial killings under his government’s war on illegal drugs.
“What is my sin? Did I steal even a peso? Did I prosecute somebody who I sent to jail? My only sin is extrajudicial killing,” Duterte said.
The President, however, said there was no evidence to incriminate him in the deaths of more than 4,000 alleged drug offenders since he assumed office in June 2016.
“Four thousand deaths. When? Where? How? What did I use? There’s none,” he said, adding that “ninja cops” or police involved in the illegal drug trade were behind the killings.
Roque said the statement was made in a jest.
“I think, he only wants to highlight that he never steals [from the government]. They are blaming him of EJK, but they do not accuse him of corruption,” he said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo added that the President only wanted to say that the only issue thrown at him is extrajudicial killings.
“What he meant was, ‘The only issue against me is extrajudicial killings.’ That’s what he meant. You know, he’s a Bisaya,” Panelo said in a radio interview, implying that Duterte has difficulty communicating straight in Tagalog as he was born in Mindanao.
The Palace official said the public should also consider the President’s previous statements in his speech to understand what he really meant.
“When the President says something, you should look into his previous statements. It must be consistent with the things he said,” Panelo added.
But Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Friday called on the International Criminal Court to expedite its probe on the charges filed against Duterte after his admission Thursday.
In a news briefing, Trillanes, the fiercest critic of the President, said this admission will be taken seriously by the ICC.
“So in this same vein, I would like to take this opportunity to call on the ICC to expedite the investigation of the crimes against humanity committed by Mr. Duterte against the Filipino people,” Trillanes said.
He dismissed Roque’s statement that the President was joking.
“They cannot get away with that… anymore,” Trillanes said.
“Those remarks uttered in unguarded moments, those are the bits of truth coming out from Duterte. Oftentimes, he has been lying, but these sentiments come out during these unguarded moments,” he said.
Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros said Duterte’s admission was proof that extrajudicial killings were taking place and that the President was accountable for them.
She added that the statement demolished his administration’s claim that rogue police were responsible for the deaths.
United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard on Friday hit the President over his remark.
“Extraordinary statement by a Head of State (and we have had many this week at the UN): my “only” sin is #EJK. Translation: my only sin is imposing unthinkable sufferings on 1000s of vulnerable families, emboldening corrupt policing, destroying rule of law,” Callamard said in a Twitter post.
Amnesty International also weighed in against the President.
“This apparent admission by the President himself highlights the urgent need for international investigations into the thousands of killings and other human rights violations committed in the name of the government’s ‘war on drugs,’ which has claimed the lives of thousands of mostly poor and marginalized people,” said Minar Pimple, senior director for global operations at Amnesty International.
“Duterte’s statement should be of interest to the ICC as it looks into complaints of crimes against humanity filed against him. Victims’ families and several groups, including Amnesty International, have found strong evidence supporting the call for an international probe. This ‘playful’ comment is a grotesque cruelty at best, and a damning indictment of his government’s murderous campaign at worst. This is no time to be ‘playful’: The killings have to stop.”
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said the President should repent, now that he has confessed of his “only sin.”
“We should welcome this public confession,” said David on his Facebook page.
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