Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte backs off claim he tossed man from helicopter - sort of

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 1:44pm

Enigmatic Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has hedged on threats to toss corrupt officials from a helicopter and denied his own claim that he once threw a rape suspect out of one in mid-air.

“If you are corrupt, I will fetch you with a helicopter and I will throw you out on the way to Manila,” Duterte warned government officials during a speech Tuesday. “I have done that before, why should I not do it again?”

Duterte said that while serving as a local prosecutor he threw a Chinese drug dealer from a helicopter. But in an interview Thursday with Philippine ABS-CBN TV, Duterte walked back his claims.

“It’s not true that I threw people off helicopters, I do not own a helicopter to be able to do that,” he said, but added “If it were true, I wouldn’t admit it.”

Earlier, Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, suggested the helicopter incident may not have actually happened.

“Let’s just say, ‘urban legend’,” Abella said, without elaborating

Duterte did acknowledge some innocent victims have been caught in the bloody “crossfire” of his crackdown on drug trafficking. But he said he has the ironclad support of his island nation of 100 million people.

“I would admit there were killings that were unintended ... collateral damage, and I’m sorry,“ he said.

Duterte, who took over as president in June, has bragged of killing drug dealers while serving as mayor of Davao City for two decades. He rose to national prominence after pledging a war on drugs and threatening to “dump all of you (drug dealers) into Manila Bay.”

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He has shrugged off sharp criticism from the United Nations and others for encouraging vigilante-style killings of drug dealers and criminals.

“Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations,” Duterte said in September. He dismissed US criticism of his human rights record, suggesting “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Watch: Duterte threatens to throw corrupt officials from a helicopter

The Philippines was a US colony from 1898 until the 1940s, hosting permanent US military bases until the government there ordered them out 25 years ago. A few hundred US troops remain, and Duterte said last month he wants them out, too.

He also has accused the State Department of threatening to withhold economic support unless he allowed himself to be treated “like a lapdog.”

He was unapologetic Thursday for his frequently bombastic tone, saying God gave him his mouth so he could change the country.

“If you have something against me or my mouth or my character, go to God and complain,” he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters