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Philippines claims foreign media has misrepresented drug war

PHNOM PENH — Foreign media are constantly misrepresenting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, one of his ministers claimed on Thursday.

Addressing a small room of journalists during the World Economic Forum's ASEAN meeting in Cambodia, newly-appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano said that international news agencies always focused on Duterte's brash remarks and never publicized his presidential statements. "They don't show the statements where he says police cannot abuse."

International journalists also often use the wrong death toll figures when reporting on the country's situation, he continued. Reuters estimates 8,000 have died since the drug war launched in July last year, while Human Rights Watch pins the number at more than 7,000. Cayetano said, however, that those figures are related to homicides.

"1.2 million Filipinos, who were either pushers or users, have surrendered voluntarily and close to 3,000 have been killed in presumed legitimate police operations, those are the real numbers," he said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Lean Daval Jr. | Reuters
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

"In the six years under (former President Benigno Aquino III), there were more than 90,000 operations against drugs. In only 10 months (under Duterte), there have been 50,000 operations, so naturally, the more operations, the more arrests — 60,000 people have been arrested," he added.

Political activists have said the bulk of deaths in the drug war were extra-judicial killings and concerns of police impunity are rampant. But Philippine officials reject those claims and have instead blamed other parties, including vigilantes and drug gangs. In an April report, Human Rights Watch said the 3,603 killings that police attribute to vigilantes and drug gangs were just a strategy to shield police from culpability.

Cayetano, Duterte's running mate in the 2016 presidential election, was only appointed to his new role on Monday and recently defended the president's administration to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

"May we invite you, the foreign media, to visit the Philippines. Do it with an open mind, and we will show you that the country is now becoming more peaceful and we will protect you and your businesses and your persons," Cayetano said.