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World News

Duterte's pick for top cop causes stir over drugs deaths, lockdown party

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine activists voiced concern on Monday about President Rodrigo Duterte’s choice of a new police chief, warning of unchecked human rights abuses ahead and a crackdown on dissent under his watch.

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

Debold Sinas’s appointment also caused a stir on social media, where users recalled how as Manila police chief he had celebrated his birthday in May with dozens of senior officers at a party that defied strict coronavirus lockdown rules.

Sinas is the latest commander to rise to the top post under Duterte having led operations in bloody hotspots of his war on drugs, during which thousands of urban poor have been killed, many in mysterious circumstances.

Rights groups accuse police of executing suspected dealers. Police say those killed in their operations were legitimate targets who resisted arrest.

“What lies ahead for the Filipino people with Sinas’s appointment is a bloody party of human rights violations,” said Cristina Palabay of rights group, Karapatan.

“This fascist regime is gearing up for an intensified crackdown on dissent and assault on human rights.”

Sinas could not be reached and the national police did not respond to a request for comment.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte valued his track record and “big” contribution to drug war.

Asked about his suitability, Roque said Duterte need not explain his appointments.

A United Nations report in June said tens of thousands of people may have been killed in the drug war amid “near impunity” for police and incitement to violence by top officials. The government rejected that as baseless.

Sinas apologised after photographs online showed him with dozens of police at his party in May, flouting a ban on gatherings.

Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said drugs killings were rampant in the central region under Sinas and his appointment did not bode well for human rights.

“He seems very loyal to Duterte and it looks like he’s going to do what Duterte would ask him to do,” he said.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty

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