August 20, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

President known for brutal drug war and his fiercest critic on magazine’s list of influential people

A PHILIPPINE President famous for his off-color jokes, coarse language, and a brutal campaign against illegal drugs and a senator known for castigating the former have made it to a list of a US news magazine’s most influential people.


President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Senator Leila M. de Lima have joined more than 90 other individuals in the 2017 TIME 100, a list of Time Magazine’s most influential people for the year.

The feature story on Mr. Duterte was written by Cesar Gaviria, the former Colombian President, who led his own bloody campaign against the late infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

In a previous opinion piece published in the New York Times, Mr. Gaviria has warned Mr. Duterte against his violent anti-drug policies, asking him to avoid repeating Colombia’s mistakes.

Mr. Gaviria’s piece for Time carried the same refrain, recalling a time when he too was “seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs” in an unwinnable war that led to a the loss of thousands of human lives.

Instead, he suggested that Mr. Duterte treat drugs as a health, development, and human rights issue, and focus on prosecution of violent drug personalities and treating drug dependents instead of condemning them.

“There will always be drugs in the Philippines, whether the President likes it or not,” Mr. Gaviria said. “The tragedy is that many more people are likely going to die before he learns his lesson.

For her part, Ms. de Lima was labeled an Icon by the magazine, for her criticism of Mr. Duterte’s drug war.

The feature story about Ms. de Lima was written by former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who was also one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2004.

Ms. Powers hailed the senator as “Duterte’s most vocal critic,” having led a Senate hearing last year on the alleged extra-judicial killings in the Philippines.

During the proceedings, Ms. de Lima, then-chair of the Senate panel on justice and human rights, featured the testimony of Edgar B. Matobato, an alleged former member of the Davao Death Squad, which was supposedly headed by Mr. Duterte.

But in September, owing to the explosive testimony, Ms. de Lima was ousted from her committee and was replaced by Senator Richard J. Gordon.

In December, the committee report found no evidence of state-sponsored killing for the past two decades. The report is still pending in the plenary.

“It is a disturbing testament to the current solidarity among strongmen and the global surge in impunity that de Lima’s cause has not been more embraced,” said Ms. Powers in her Time 100 piece on the Senator.

DE LIMA HUMBLED BY RECOGNITION
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said that Mr. Duterte still has the support of the people when it comes to his anti-drug campaign.

As for the inclusion of Ms. de Lima in the list, Mr. Abella said that Time magazine “conveniently failed to clarify that she was jailed not for her criticisms agains the administration but because an independent court found probable cause in support of the criminal charges against her for alleged violation of the law on illegal drugs.”

For her part, Ms. de Lima issued a statement, and said that she was “deeply humbled” by the recognition.

“International recognition of what we fight for is important, because even as darkness surrounds us now, the world keeps watch and shines a light on us, until the time comes when we can finally bear our own torch once again and chase away the monster that enslaves us in evil,” Ms. de Lima said. -- Lucia Edna P. de Guzman