Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday reiterated a vow to kill anyone who destroys the country and its youth, admitting that the fight against illegal drugs might not be finished before his term ends next year.
On his last state of the nation address in Congress, Duterte said that when he promised to eradicate illegal drugs in six months in the country at the start of his term in 2016, he did not know the extent of the problem.
“I did not know that I was fighting my own government,” he said in his speech that ran for almost three hours, noting that even police officials were found to have been involved in the illegal trade.
“We still have a long way in our fight against the proliferation of drugs,” he added. “This problem has hounded our country for several decades, destroying families and degrading the moral fibre of our society.”
“I will be frank, I would never deny and the [International Criminal Court] can record it: Those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you,” the 76-year-old president said.
“I will kill you because I love my country,” he added.
The ICC has been asked to conduct a full investigation into Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs after a preliminary examination found “reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder” has been committed.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in police operations against illegal drugs in the Philippines in the past five years. Human rights groups have alleged that the toll could even be three times that number.
Questions have also arisen about whether the suspects were extrajudicially killed by police and whether some of those killed actually had any role in drug sales.
Duterte said he never imagined that his presidency would not only be judged by how he fulfilled his promises to fight illegal drugs, criminality and corruption, but also how well he led the country during a global pandemic.
Noting that his administration has poured billions of pesos into efforts to save lives from Covid-19, Duterte warned that a prolonged lockdown could lead to “irreversible damage” to the economy.
“We cannot afford more lockdowns lest our economy bleeds to the point of irreversible damage,” he said, urging all Filipinos to get vaccinated to help contain the spread of the coronavirus amid the more contagious Delta variant.
More than 27,000 people have died and over 1.5 million have fallen ill with Covid-19 in the Philippines, a country of 108 million, and experts have warned of a new surge in cases due to the Delta variant.
Before Duterte’s speech in Congress, around 6,000 protesters took to the streets to call for his prosecution after his term ends next year.
The demonstrators marched holding banners with anti-Duterte messages such as, “Enough is enough! End Duterte regime now!” and paraded effigies of Duterte as a monstrous octopus, a gecko, and a beheaded king.
Duterte has said before he is open to running for vice president because it would give him immunity from any criminal suits that might be brought against him when he steps down.
Activists denounced the “bloody legacy” of Duterte’s term, a reference to the killings under his controversial crackdown on illegal drugs and other alleged human rights violations.
“We say ‘no more!’ to a Duterte kind of governance,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, which was among dozens of organizations that joined demonstrations in Manila.
“We will not let him get away with mass murder and state repression, and we vow to not let his successor claim victory in the coming elections,” she added. “We must end Duterte’s reign of terror … and hold him to account for his crimes against the Filipino people.”