Philippines’ Duterte vows to continue ‘chilling’ war on drugs

President Rodrigo Duterte says bloody anti-narcotics offensive is far from over as protesters call for his resignation.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to sustain the momentum of his bloody war on drugs, telling the nation in an annual address the fight would be as “relentless and chilling” as during his first two years in power.

Duterte told a joint session of Congress on Monday the anti-narcotics campaign, which has killed thousands of people and attracted international condemnation, was “far from over” and he took a swipe at activists demanding it be stopped.

“The illegal drugs war will not be sidelined, instead it will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began,” said Duterte, whose crackdown is now the subject of a preliminary examination by prosecutors of the International Criminal Court.

“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” he said, adding the crackdown aimed to stop drugs destroying families.

‘Systematic extermination’

Human rights groups are alarmed by the bloodshed and say thousands have been summarily executed in what amounts to systematic extermination of drug users in the poorest communities. Police vigorously reject that.

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Duterte read his prepared 50-minute speech in full, unlike his two previous addresses, when he abandoned his script to improvise, ramble and lambaste his critics.

He said he would approve within two days a law allowing the country’s Muslim minority to start a process towards self-rule, and prevent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from furthering its influence.

Though he described ties with historic foe China as being “re-energised”, he said that would not compromise Philippine territorial integrity and economic interests in the South China Sea.

China has pledged loans, grants and investment to support Duterte’s bumper $180bn infrastructure programme, his core economic policy.

Duterte showed disdain for what he called irresponsible miners and their financial backers, accusing them of polluting rivers and destroying forests.

“Expect reforms, radical ones,” he said, without elaborating. “I cannot intend to quarrel with anybody, with the moneyed, but for as long as I am here … you will just have to contend with me.”

‘Bad movie rerun’

Thousands of demonstrators, representing the church, women’s groups and labour unions, rallied near Congress to denounce what they said were Duterte’s abusive, anti-poor policies.

Colourful effigies of the maverick leader were burned during a street march. Duterte’s supporters held counter-rallies nearby.

Duterte’s opponents scoffed at his touted achievements and said his war on drugs had been a failure. Others said his speech was nothing new, including Senator Risa Hontiveros, who described it as “like watching and listening to a bad movie rerun”.