“I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military, as well as village officials, if there is any trouble, or occasions where there’s violence and your lives are in danger, shoot them dead. Do not intimidate the government. Do not challenge the government. You will lose.”
Those are the chilling words of Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial President of the Philippines. This, in his eyes, is the way to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. It’s also how he intends to keep order while doing it.
This ominous proclamation is completely within the character of the seventy-five-year-old President. Duterte has publicly voiced his support for extrajudicial killings throughout a political career spanning over 30 years. He has even boasted about personally participating in summary executions.
He has in the past authorized death squads, urged citizens to kill drug addicts, and promised to “litter Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals”. Ordering police to shoot protestors who violate his lockdown measures is not a stretch.
Why is President Duterte Threatening Citizens?
On March 12th, Duterte announced drastic measures to arrest the spread of the virus. These included:
- Banning all domestic travel to Manila’s 17 districts
- Enacting a community quarantine
- Closing schools
- Enforcing an 8 pm to 5 am curfew
To ensure compliance, checkpoints were set up, with police and military personnel checking citizens’ temperatures.
In a televised address, Duterte said, “We don’t want to use that (word), because you are afraid of a lockdown — but it’s a lockdown.”
The lockdown turned Manila into a virtual ghost town, with closed businesses and empty streets. Unable to work, residents are dependent on deliveries from the government. But according to some in poorer sections, they have not received any food packs since the lockdown began. Complaining of the lack of supplies, they took to the streets in protest.
Duterte refutes those claims, saying the protestors were violating the lockdown and clashing with the police. Ultimately, about 20 people were arrested when they refused to return home.
How Bad is the Coronavirus Situation in the Philippines?
As of April 6th, there are 3,660 cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, according to the World Health Organization. There have been 163 deaths to-date, and hundreds of new infections are being reported daily.
“It is getting worse. So once again I’m telling you the seriousness of the problem and that you must listen,” Duterte said.
Despite that warning, there is one inescapable fact. The Philippines has fewer coronavirus infections and deaths than other comparably-sized countries.
Duterte will undoubtedly use that as justification to extend the lockdown and to use violence to end protests. He has made his position clear, saying, “Is that understood? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I will bury you.”
The National Police Chief suggests that the President’s words were hyperbole. He said that police understood that Duterte was just demonstrating his seriousness about public order. No one would be shot simply for protesting.
Last Thursday, a 63-year old man attacked Nasipit health officials with a scythe after he was cautioned for not wearing a face mask. When the incident escalated, he was shot dead by police.
It is believed to be the first case of police killing a civilian for violating coronavirus restrictions.