By Dennis Jay Santos
Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte openly acknowledged for the first time Thursday that extrajudicial killings had occurred in his government’s anti-drug campaign that has left thousands dead.
The admission would likely be used by rights groups that have filed two cases of murder and crimes against humanity against Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.
In a speech before government employees at the presidential palace, Duterte hit out at critics of his anti-drug campaign, challenged the military and police to remove him and blasted an opposition senator who had sponsored a law that exempted children younger than 15 from any criminal liability.
“I asked the military, what is my sin? Did I steal even one peso? Did I persecute somebody and throw him in jail?” Duterte said. “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”
He did not explain what he meant, and his spokesman, Harry Roque, did not wish to comment when contacted by BenarNews.
However, this marked the first time that Duterte had acknowledged extrajudicial killings had happened during his term.
In the past Duterte said that those slain by the police were drug offenders who had pulled the gun on arresting officers.
Duterte is facing two complaints before the Hague-based ICC. The first was filed by a former policeman and a self-confessed assassin who alleged that Duterte ordered the killings of criminals and opponents when he was the longtime mayor of Davao city in the south; and the second, filed by relatives of eight people killed in the drug war.
According to the national police, 4,500 drug users and dealers have been killed in legitimate gunbattles since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016. Rights groups have cited a figure that was almost three times as much.