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Duterte Says He Ordered a Politician Killed; a Spokesman Says He Misspoke

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines appeared to admit in a speech this week that he had ordered an assassination attempt on a politician last year, a startling statement even for a president known for bloody, provocative rhetoric.

His spokesman said on Wednesday that Mr. Duterte had misspoken.

In a speech on Tuesday night at the presidential palace in Manila, Mr. Duterte railed against drug-related corruption in Philippine politics. He mentioned two mayors who were killed by the police after he accused them of drug crimes: Rolando Espinosa, who was gunned down in his jail cell in 2016, and Reynaldo Parojinog, who died in a raid on his home in 2017.

Then he mentioned Vicente Loot, a mayor and former general who survived an attack by gunmen in the central Philippines in May 2018.

“General Loot, you son of a bitch,” he said. “I ambushed you, you animal, and you still survived.”

A presidential spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said Wednesday that Mr. Duterte had meant to say “You were ambushed,” not “I ambushed you.” Mr. Duterte, he noted, is not a native speaker of the Filipino language but of Visayan, which is spoken mainly in the southern and central Philippines.

“It is silly and absurd to conclude that he is behind the ambush just because he misspeaks the Filipino language, which is not his native tongue or first language,” Mr. Panelo said.

Mr. Duterte ran for president promising a bloody campaign to kill drug dealers, and thousands of people — many but not all of them suspected dealers or addicts — have been gunned down by police officers or vigilantes since he took office in 2016.

Mr. Loot, Mr. Espinosa and Mr. Parojinog were on a list of more than 100 politicians that Mr. Duterte read on live television soon after taking office, accusing them of being involved in drug trafficking.

In December, Mr. Duterte denied being involved in the attack on Mr. Loot, which left three of his aides and a dock worker wounded. Mr. Loot, who was unhurt in the attack, has denied involvement in drug trafficking.

In July, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council voted to begin a process that could lead to an investigation of the killings carried out during Mr. Duterte’s tenure. Filipinos have filed two complaints at the International Criminal Court in The Hague accusing Mr. Duterte of murder; one was filed by two men who say they were part of a “hit squad” he commanded as mayor of Davao, a city in the south.

A lawyer for those men, Jude Sabio, said on Wednesday that Mr. Duterte’s statement about Mr. Loot could be used against him in court. “As a lawyer and a former prosecutor, he knows that admission is the queen of evidence,” Mr. Sabio said.

Source: NYT > World News

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