‘My only sin is the extrajudicial killings,’ says Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Rights groups have hailed the statement as a ‘confession’, but the leader’s spokesman said Duterte wasn’t being serious
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appears to have admitted for the first time to authorising extrajudicial killings as part of his war on drugs in the Philippines. However, his spokesman said Duterte was being “playful” and didn’t mean it.
Duterte made the comment during a speech at the presidential palace on Thursday, where he directly challenged anyone who criticised how he ran the country. “I told the military, what is my fault? Did I steal even one peso?” he said. “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”
Duterte has previously addressed the existence of extrajudicial killings but has always denied they were state-sponsored. This apparent acknowledgement of his role in the deaths could add weight to the ongoing preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the thousands of extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out as part of Duterte’s war on drugs.
In March, the ICC confirmed it was investigating claims Duterte had committed crimes against humanity in his brutal anti-drugs crusade, both as mayor of Davao and then as the president over the past two years. In response, the president announced he was withdrawing the Philippines from the Rome Statute, which gives the ICC jurisdiction to investigate the country.
According to official statistics, 4,500 people, mostly small-time drug dealers and addicts, have been killed by the police in what have been described as “legitimate” anti-drug operations since Duterte became president. However, the 77-page report submitted to the ICC claims the death toll was more than 8,000. Some rights groups insist it is as high as 12,000.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “This admission should erase any doubt about the culpability of the president.”
But the president’s spokesman, Harry Roque, played down the comment on Friday morning, saying Duterte was being “playful” and it should “not be taken literally”.
Duterte also used the speech to emphasise he had no intention of ending his war on drugs any time soon.
“It will not end,” he said. “As I have said, I will put on the table my life, the presidency. I can lose it any time. My honour.”