New House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano, left, greets representative Paolo Duterte before the opening of the 18th Congress at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Amid protests, Duterte to address Congress led by his allies

July 22, 2019 - 2:48 am

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday is to address a joint session of the Philippine Congress where his allies have greater control to press for his priorities like reinstating the death penalty and amending the pro-democracy constitution.

Duterte will deliver his state of the nation address at the House of Representatives, where thousands of protesters are beginning to mass outside to call for his removal over a range of issues, including his brutal anti-drug campaign.

Military and police have been placed on full alert. Authorities declared a no-fly zone over the venue and outlying areas to ensure security.

Duterte, 74, took office in June 2016 and has remained hugely popular based on opinion polls despite his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs, which has sparked international alarm, and other controversial policies. More of his allies captured congressional seats in midterm elections in May, giving them a tighter grip on the legislature, especially in the 24-member Senate, which opposed some of his key legislative proposals last year.

Ahead of the president's late-afternoon speech, House members met to uphold Duterte's recommendation to settle a leadership row through a term-sharing arrangement. Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunchly loyal Duterte ally, is to serve as House speaker for 15 months, followed by another presidential ally, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.

"We respect the decision of the president," said Rep. Paolo Duterte, the president's son, during a breakfast meeting with a majority of congressmen.

Last year, Duterte's speech was delayed after a leadership squabble erupted between two allies vying for the House speakership in a chaotic scene that unraveled on live TV. Duterte stayed in a holding room until the confusion was sorted out.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte would likely discuss his plans to press on with his battle against illegal drugs and criminality, corruption, communist and Muslim insurgencies and ways to sustain economic growth in his final three years in power.

Other aides said Duterte may touch on a resolution adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council in a vote in Geneva two weeks ago for the U.N.'s top human rights body to look into the thousands of deaths of suspects under his anti-drug crackdown.

Duterte's officials have lashed out at the resolution as Western meddling in the country's anti-crime efforts. Panelo said the president was considering cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland, which initiated the resolution.

Human rights groups, however, have lauded the resolution as crucial to helping end the drug killings and bringing perpetrators to justice. Officials have reported that more than 5,000 to 6,000 mostly poor drug suspects have died in the campaign after they allegedly fired back at law enforcers during raids.

Rights groups have questioned the police reports and accused the police of committing extrajudicial killings.

Monday's protests were expected to highlight outrage over the killings and Duterte's recent pronouncement that he has forged an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the country's exclusive economic zone. Critics say Duterte's action violated the constitution, which requires presidents to protect the country's territory and sovereign rights.

Protesters burned a mock Chinese flag hours before Duterte's speech and wore shirts with slogans that read: "The Philippines is ours, China get out." Riot policemen, backed by troops, were deployed to maintain order during the main protests.

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