MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippine president has said he takes responsibility for the thousands of killings committed during police operations in his drug breakdown, adding that he was even ready to go to jail.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s TV statements on Monday night were typical of his bluster – and tempered by the fact that he has pulled his country out of the International Criminal Court, where a prosecutor is considering complaints in connection with the leader̵
The remarks were also a clear recognition that Duterte could face a stream of criminal charges. Nearly 6,000 killings of drug suspects have been reported by police since he took office in mid-2016, but rights watchdogs suspect the number of deaths is far greater.
“If killed there, I say I’m the one … you can hold me responsible for everything, every death that has happened during the execution of the drug war,” Duterte said.
“If you get killed, it’s because I’m furious about drugs,” the president said, known for his harsh and boastful rhetoric. “If I serve my country by going to prison, with joy.”
He said, however, that drug killings that did not happen during police operations should not be blamed on him, claiming that they may have been committed by gangs.
Duterte has made a severe drug attack a central point of his presidency. At the height of the campaign – which has often targeted retailers and users along with a handful of the biggest drug lords – images of suspects scattered dead and bloody in the streets were often sent in TV news reports and spray-painted on the front pages of newspapers. Tens of thousands of arrests in the first years of the crash exacerbated the congestion in what was already among the world’s most overcrowded prisons.
UN human rights experts and Western governments led by the United States have raised the alarm over the killings and outraged Duterte, who once told former US President Barack Obama to “go to hell.
There have been widespread suspicions that the police are involved in extrajudicial killings in the crash, accusations that they and Duterte deny. In 2018, a court convicted three police officers of murdering a 17-year-old student after witnesses and a security video rejected their claim that the suspect was shot after violent resistance, a common cause cited by police officers after drug addicts killed.
At least two complaints about crimes against humanity and mass murder in connection with Duterte’s campaign are being investigated by an ICC prosecutor who will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to open a full-scale investigation.
When the complaints were filed, Duterte pulled the Philippines out of world law two years ago in a move that human rights groups said was a major setback in the country’s fight against impunity. The ICC prosecutor has said the investigation into the drug killing continues despite the Philippine withdrawal.
Duterte reiterated his contradiction of the court’s probe Monday by asking when “drugs became humanity?”
Instead, he framed the fight against drugs as a national security threat, which he has previously compared to the communist uprising that the government has been trying to quell for more than half a century.
“If this is allowed to continue and continue, and if no decisive action is taken against them, it will endanger the security of the state,” said Duterte, a former state prosecutor.
“When you save your country from the loss of the people as NPAs and drugs, you are performing a sacred duty,” he said, referring to communist rebels from the new people’s army.
Police have reported that at least 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in raids, and more than 256,000 others have been arrested since the start of the crash. Human rights groups have blamed the authorities for significantly reporting the deaths.