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Ex-Philippine leader Ramos concerned about impunity, Duterte 'unilateralism'

Reuters

MANILA (Reuters) - A war on drugs in the Philippines has given rise to a culture of impunity and President Rodrigo Duterte is making too many policy decisions without consultation, according to former leader Fidel Ramos.

Ramos, who backed Duterte's election campaign but has since become one of his bluntest critics, said there was "too much unilateralism" in the administration, especially on law enforcement and security issues.

More than 7,600 people have been killed during a merciless drugs crackdown that started seven months ago. That includes more than 2,500 in police operations.

Ramos was asked during an interview on Sunday with online news channel Rappler whether the bloodshed during the drugs war meant a culture of impunity was prevailing.

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"It is starting to become like that," Ramos said.

He said he felt hesitant to call it a culture of impunity because he believed it was not too late to change, but that the onus was on Duterte.

"Based on the guidance from the very top, there could be positive change (in) the way we do things in this country," Ramos said.

Police operations were suspended on Jan. 31 after a South Korean businessman was murdered by rogue drugs squad officers.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has since taken over the lead role and Duterte wants the military to join raids.

Ramos, president from 1992-1998, disagrees with that because he said troops and police were trained differently.

"Police work, which is a little different from military operations, does follow its basic rule of engagement, which is you shoot to disable, but not to kill," he said.

The senior statesman is among the few Filipinos able to criticize Duterte without incurring his trademark wrath.

He previously said Duterte's drugs obsession distracted him from pressing issues and expressed bemusement at his hostility to ally the United States.

Ramos also said on Sunday Duterte was not talking to his Cabinet on issues such as ties with China and the United States, and peace talks with Muslim insurgents and communist rebels.

"The way it is, there is a lack of consultation," he said.

"Not just with his active commanders, maybe not even with the Cabinet members concerned, but also with the rest of the citizenry," Ramos said.

Duterte's spokesman Ernesto Abella did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Monday.

Abella said in a radio interview Duterte listens to Ramos's opinions but was a different kind of leader.

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Paul Tait)