The Cable

Yet Another Duterte Boast of Killing, This Time With Helicopters

The firebrand Philippines president said he threw people out of helicopters in the past, then (sort of) backed off of the claim.


Those following Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte can add another fiery quote to his very long, very colorful list of controversies. During a speech on Tuesday, Duterte threatened to throw corrupt government officials out of helicopters, claiming he had done so in the past.

“If you are corrupt, I will fetch you using a helicopter to Manila and I will throw you out,” Duterte said. “I have done this before, why would I not do it again?”

But on Thursday, Duterte backed down on his claim. Kind of. In an interview with ABS-CBN television, he said “It’s not true that I threw people off helicopters, I do not own a helicopter to be able to do that.” Does the story end there? Not quite. “If it were true, I wouldn’t admit it,” Duterte added.

If it were true, as Duterte said, it wouldn’t be the first time he admitted to killing people. On Dec. 12, the Filipino leader said he killed people in his so-called war on drugs and drug users during his time as mayor of Davao. “I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill,” he said.

Following the remarks, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the country should open an investigation into the president’s alleged killings, as Duterte’s actions “violate international law.” This, in turn, prompted a somewhat predictable but explosive backlash from Duterte.

“This guy (Zeid) is ever the joker or crazy,” Duterte said in a television interview. “You U.N. officials, sitting there on your asses, we pay you your salaries. You idiot, do not tell me what to do…Who gave you the right?”

Duterte came under fire for opening a country-wide war on drugs when he stepped into office in July, encouraging citizens to take up vigilantism and kill drug dealers. An estimated 6,000 people have been killed in the so-called drug war.

Prominent opposition politicians, including Senator Leila de Lima, have called for Duterte’s impeachment. “That is betrayal of public trust and that constitutes high crimes because mass murders certainly fall into the category of high crimes. And high crimes is a ground for impeachment under the constitution,” de Lima said.

Add this to a long list of Duterte’s bizarre and provocative actions. He’s previously called both President Barack Obama and Pope Francis ‘son of a whore,’ halted joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises, and announced an intent to forge closer ties with China and Russia. He also said on Thursday he would consider challenging China in an international tribunal if it drilled for oil or gas in the disputed South China Sea region, not two weeks after declaring he would do the opposite. On Dec. 17, Duterte said he would “set aside” international tribunal rulings against China on its military gambit and island-building in the maritime dispute.

Photo credit: MANMAN DEJETO/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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