MANILA, Dec 14, (Agencies): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he personally killed suspected criminals when he was mayor of a southern city to set an example for police. Duterte made the comments in a speech late on Monday night to businessmen as he discussed his campaign to eradicate illegal drugs, which has seen police and unknown assailants kill thousands of people since he became president on June 30.
After speaking about police killing suspects during the current crime war, Duterte said he led similar efforts when he was mayor of Davao, the major southern city that he ruled for most of the previous 20 years. “In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys (police) that if I can do it why can’t you,” Duterte said in his speech at the presidential palace. “And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”
Duterte, 71, also responded to criticism from human rights groups and US President Barack Obama about his anti-crime tactics, vowing he would not be intimidated by their criticism into stopping. “Sorry, I am not about to do that,” he said. In a speech to expatriate Filipinos during a state visit to Cambodia on Tuesday, Duterte joked that as mayor of Davao he would go on missions with police and shoot blindly at criminal suspects. “I (would) sometimes go along with them. If you say I shot someone, maybe I did. I was closing my eyes because I am scared of firing a gun,” said Duterte, a lawyer and former state prosecutor.
Rights groups have previously accused Duterte of running vigilante death squads in Davao that killed more than 1,000 suspected criminals, including children accused of petty crimes. Duterte has variously denied and acknowledged involvement in the death squads. But he easily won presidential elections in May after promising to rollout his Davao law-and-order policies across the nation.
He pledged that 100,000 people would die in the crackdown and that so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that fish there would grow fat from feeding on them. Since taking office in late June, police have reported killing 2,086 people in anti-drug operations. More than 3,000 others have been killed in unexplained circumstances, according to official figures.
Often masked assailants break into shanty homes and kill people who have been tagged as drug traffickers or drug users. Rights groups have warned of a breakdown in the rule of law with police and hired assassins operating with complete impunity.
Duterte has insisted that police are only killing in self-defence and gangsters are murdering the other victims. But he has also said he will not allow any police to go to jail if they are found guilty of murder in prosecuting his crime war. Surveys show a majority of Filipinos continue to support the charismatic Duterte and his crime policies, accepting his argument that drastic action is required to stop the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.
Duterte said on Tuesday that he might not “be around” until the end of his term, and that, after winning the presidency at 71, he had found out late in the day that “I don’t need it at my age”. The previous day he had told a gathering of business leaders in the Philippines that he suffered from back pains, migraines and Buerger’s disease, a cause of blockages in the blood vessels, associated with smoking during his youth. On Tuesday, Duterte told a cheering crowd of a few thousand expatriate Filipinos in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh: “I am old … This is my last hurrah — after this, 77 — I am not sure if I will still be around by the end of my term.” Duterte, who will be 77 at the end of his six-year term in 2022, is the oldest person to be elected president in the Philippines since the post-war period. He added that he had “found out very late” that he did not need the presidency at his age. “It’s not a question of having regrets, none at all, because I entered into it,” he said, before adding: “I realize now – I do not need it at this time of my life. But I tell you, I take pleasure at the end of the day, that’s the only consolation, I have a job, I am doing something right.” Duterte had told the business leaders on Monday that he had no fear of being removed from power or assassinated because of opposition to the rising death toll in his anti-drugs campaign. “Oust me – good; assassinate me – better; I have this migraine every day,” he said. “I have a lot of issues with my spine. What I have is really Buerger’s disease. It’s an acquired thing that you get from smoking, because of nicotine.” Doctors had advised surgery on his spine, he said, but his wife, a nurse who used to work in the United States, did not agree because “a lot of operations for the spine went wrong”.
He added: “If you guys see me always in a sad mood, I am actually pushing a nerve here to relieve the pain,” and touched the right side of his face. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the health issues had not affected Duterte’s work, dismissing the remarks as “Nothing serious”. Duterte no longer smokes or drinks alcohol. But Duterte missed some events during meetings of the ASEAN grouping of South East Asian nations in Laos in September and last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, due to migraine attacks and a bad stomach. Duterte on Tuesday announced the distribution of 2 billion pesos’ ($40 million) worth of medicines to poor families afflicted by illness, and to drug-dependent individuals at rehabilitation centres.