MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte taunted the head of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Saturday, asking if he was a pedophile because of his focus on the killing of teenagers in the government’s bloody war on drugs.
Duterte also suggested to lawmakers that the CHR’s proposed 678 million Philippine peso ($13.2 million) budget could be used to equip police with body cameras if the legislators preferred not to restore funding for the agency, with which he has repeatedly clashed over his anti-drugs campaign.
The CHR requested a budget of 1.72 billion pesos for 2018, but the government proposed 678 million instead. Duterte’s allies in the lower house of Congress then voted to allocate it just 1,000 pesos ($20), in what critics of the drugs war said was retaliation for its efforts to investigate thousands of killings in the past 15 months, including those of two teenagers in August.
“Why is this guy so pre...suffocated with the issue of young people, especially boys? Are you a pedophile?” Duterte asked, referring to CHR head Chito Gascon.
“Why are you smitten with teenagers? Are you? I’m having my doubts. Are you gay or a pedophile?” he asked.
CHR spokeswoman Jacqueline de Guia said the president’s remarks deviated public attention away from a critical human rights issue in the country.
“These are remarks that do not show respect for the dignity of others. The public must understand that the death of children concerns us all as they are especially vulnerable and need state protection,” De Guia told Reuters in a mobile phone message.
Duterte also accused Gascon of being a spokesman for the opposition and criticized his scrutiny of police anti-drug activities.
“Why can’t you move on to other issues that are besetting this country?” Duterte said, citing the suffering of the people in the besieged southern city of Marawi.
Critics say police are executing suspects under what is effectively a government policy. Duterte has rejected that claim while the police say they only kill in self-defense.
The CHR has long said it lacks the manpower and resources to fully investigate the killings, the majority of which activists say are of drug users and small-time peddlers, with few high-profile arrests.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who was not Duterte’s running mate and has locked horns with him numerous times, said the lawmakers’ move regarding CHR’s budget effectively abolishes the constitutional body.
Filipinos largely support the crackdown as a means to tackle rampant crime, which Duterte says stems from drug addiction.
Duterte reiterated there will be no let-up in the campaign, which he said was targeted at organized criminals trafficking in drugs and not at “teenagers without a sin”.
The firebrand leader, who is also fighting communist rebels following a breakdown in peace talks with the government, said he remained open to resuming negotiations to end the conflict that has dragged on for nearly five decades.
Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Eric Meijer