In his annual address, the president calls on critics not to trivialise his drugs war by demanding human rights.
Fishermen in the Philippines have revealed that they have been dumping bodies of drug suspects, killed as part of the country’s so-called war on drugs, on the orders of the police.
The bodies, called “trash” by authorities, have been thrown on the sides of highways and in Manila Bay over the past year.
“Police are the ones coming to my house ordering me to take out trash,” said Manuel, a local fisherman who has personally disposed of 20 bodies.
“We usually throw them out in Manila Bay,” he told Al Jazeera. “Sometimes we put weights on it, so it doesn’t float up.”
Al Jazeera’s Yaara Bou Melhem, reporting from the capital Manila, verified the identity of one of the dumped corpses, who was known to police as a drug dealer.
“Once, I saw the body of a friend,” said Manuel. “I’m scared and wonder if I could be next.”
Manuel said he does not trust the authorities “who are playing both sides of the drugs war”.
Thousands of people have died since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year and ordered an unprecedented crackdown on drug-related crimes that has drawn global criticism and allegations of widespread human rights abuses.
“You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out,” he said during the election campaign last year. “Because I’d kill you. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”
Critics say the president has unleashed a campaign of mass murder by police and unknown assailants on the nation’s most vulnerable.
Police have reported killing some 3,200 people in anti-drug operations, while thousands of unlawful killings remain unexplained.
Human rights organisations cast doubt over the police reporting, saying more than 7,000 people have been killed in connection to the drug war.
“Before February 2017, they actually had a higher number, and they decided to lower it April and May which didn’t make sense for us,” said Wilnor Papa, a human rights officer at Amnesty International.
“Is it because the world is watching, is it because people are saying there are too many deaths? As far as we’re concerned it’s not just the numbers, but for us, one death is a death too many,” he told Al Jazeera.
Philippine police, who vowed to continue their crackdown on drugs, said they would investigate the alleged dumping of bodies.
“If it’s true, we will work on it,” police spokesperson Diornardo Carlos told Al Jazeera. “We will not allow any member of the organisation, the police organisation, to continue these wrongdoings.
“There [have been] three focus [points] in the campaign from day one – drugs, criminality and corruption – which we are [tackling] through our internal cleansing process.”