MANILA, Philippines – On the same day that an international human rights watchdog released a report accusing Philippine police of executing drug suspects, President Rodrigo Duterte warned of "more killings to come" in his key anti-crime campaign.
Duterte made the statement at the groundbreaking of the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway in Cordova in Cebu, on Thursday, March 2, hours after Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Philippine National Police (PNP) of carrying out extrajudicial killings in the government's drug war.
Addressing priests, who are among the critics of his drug war, the President said: "I am committed to stopping drugs before I go out, which means to say, Father, Monsignor, Bishop, which means to say, marami pang patayan kasi lumalaban talaga 'yan (there will be more killings because they really fight back)."
"It will not end tomorrow [but] for as long as there is drug pusher and a drug lord," he added.
Duterte asked the religious leaders to help in the fight against illegal drugs by "convincing" addicts, pushers, and drug lords to stay away from their trade.
"Mga pari (You priests), all you have to do is convince the guys. Go around and find out who are connected with drugs. I know you can do it. You have plenty of money from your collections," he said.
'No war vs humanity'
In a chance interview after the event, the President called out Human Rights Watch for describing his anti-drug campaign as a "war against humanity."
"When you kill criminals, that is not crime against humanity. The criminals have no humanity, goddamn it," said Duterte, when asked for comment on the report.
The same report alleged police impunity in his war on drugs. Duterte explained that drug suspects almost always fight back when policemen try to arrest them, leaving cops no choice but to use deadly force. He insisted that those killed outside police operations were victims of other groups.
"Lahat naman sila lumaban. 'Yung hindi lumaban sa gobyerno, hindi amin 'yun. Baka pari, kalaban nila (They all fought back. Government doesn't kill those who don't fight back. Maybe it's the priests they are fighting)," he said.
The President reiterated that he is prepared to be held legally responsible for deaths at the hands of police or military who properly enforce his drug war.
"Those who died in encounters, of course I answer for them. I hold myself legally responsible. Don't file cases against the police or soldiers because they just received my orders," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Duterte denied the HRW finding that police plant evidence, such as firearms, in crime scenes to support their claim that suspects were killed because they fought back.
"Wala. Karami diyan nahuli na mayroon bakit ka doon magplant ng evidence (Nothing. So many were arrested with firearms, why would you have to plant evidence)?" he said.
'Finish off hindrances'
In his speech at the groundbreaking event, Duterte justified his drug war as his way of ensuring peace and progress in the Philippines. This was his strategy in Davao City, which in his first years as mayor, was known for violence and crime.
Duterte said he "finished off" those he thought came in the way of Davao City's progress.
"I finished off everybody which I considered would be hindrances to the development of Davao," he said, but did not elaborate.
Duterte is alleged to be behind the Davao Death Squad (DDS) – a group that reportedly carried out summary executions of crime suspects in Davao City when he was mayor.
At least two confessed members of the DDS have pointed to Duterte as the person giving orders to them when he was mayor. No cases have been filed against Duterte in connection to his alleged role in the group, to this day. (READ: Edgar Matobato: Liar or truth teller? and SPO3 Lascañas: Blind obedience ends now)
The President also dismissed concerns for "criminals" who lose their lives in his drug war. He said people, instead, should appreciate the difference between criminals and the innocent.
"There's a whale of a difference between killing an innocent person and killing a criminal. They ought not to be mixed up," he said.
The police list 2,555 people killed allegedly in self-defense by the police in various operations. At least 3,603 are listed as deaths under investigation. (READ: PNP to Human Rights Watch: Show evidence to back allegations) – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.