‘That idiot’: Rodrigo Duterte responds to former Colombian president’s anti-drug-war op-ed

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at the presidential palace in Manila, January 24, 2017.
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Reuters/Czar Dancel

During a speech at an event celebrating the 115th anniversary of the founding of the Philippine Bureau of Customs, President Rodrigo Duterte gave a customarily blunt response to an op-ed written by former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria.

Gaviria, who presided over the hunt for and killing of Pablo Escobar, cautioned against deploying armed police and troops to fight the drug trade and called for more efforts to address the social factors related to drug use in a New York Times op-ed titled “President Duterte is repeating my mistakes.”

Duterte, whose campaign against the drug trade in the Philippines is believed to have led to more than 7,600 killings since he took office in summer 2016, gave little weight to Gaviria’s words.

“To tell you frankly [they say that] Colombia [leader] has been lecturing me. That idiot,” he said, according to Philippine news site Rappler.

During his speech, Duterte had been describing the virulence of “shabu,” the local name for methamphetamine used in the Philippines.

According to Rappler, he said he had been “receiving so many lectures, communications, and criticisms” about his war on drugs. But, he said, observers should be more understanding, since he was dealing with around 4 million or 5 million addicts in the Philippines.

That number doesn’t quite jibe with other estimates. Data from the President’s Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) put the number of drug users at about 1.8 million, about half the 3.7 million that Duterte has cited in the past, according to Reuters.

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Nora Acielo, 47, lies dead after she was gunned down by unidentified men while she was escorting her two children to school in Manila, Philippines, December 8, 2016. Police said Acielo was among more than 30 people slain over the previous three days in drugs-related killings.
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REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Of those 1.8 million, only about one-third had used drugs in the previous 13 months, and only 860,000 had used shabu. Overall, drug-usage rates in the Philippines are thought to be roughly similar to the US or Australia.

Duterte also contrasted the nature of Colombia’s drug trade with that of his country, saying the dissimilarities necessitated a different approach in the Philippines.

“You know, they have cocaine there. Cocaine and heroine, not really; cocaine and marijuana are kind of okay. You can still communicate,” he added. Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, and in the past, much of the heroin consumed in the US has come from South America as well.

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Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 15, 2009.
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REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

Duterte’s comments about Gaviria, who is a founding member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, differed from a statement issued by his spokesman prior to his speech.

“We respect the opinion of former President Cesar Gaviria that Colombia’s experience of ‘war against drugs’ cannot be won by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone,” the statement said, noting that the “second phase” of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign “focuses on the treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependents.”

“We appreciate the ex-Colombian president’s concerns and we encourage our people to see our situation in the light of comprehensive nation-building,” the statement concluded.

As noted by Rappler, Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa, who is currently under fire for alleged abuses carried about by his police force, traveled to Colombia in September 2016 to see, he said, “how they won, what they did to win the war on drugs.”