Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that the killing of innocent people in the country's war on drugs is neither a crime, negligence nor recklessness. Instead, it's collateral damage.
“Let me tell you. This is the law of my land. Here is a police. Here is a gangster,” Duterte said as he raised two index fingers to demonstrate why he thinks that is the case during a recent interview with Al Jazeera.
In Duterte's scenario, the police officer has an M16 rifle that can shoot multiple rounds, while the gangster is armed with only a pistol. When they exchange fire during a confrontation, the police officer fires his weapon and ends up killing 1,000 other people.
“That's not criminal liability,” Duterte said. “It could not be negligence because you have to save your life. It could not be recklessness because you have to defend yourself.”
In the interview with Al Jazeera, Duterte was asked whether he thinks he has created a state of lawlessness that allowed people to kill to settle old scores under the guise of the war on drugs. Duterte defended his methods, saying his goal is to eradicate his country's massive drug problems “to preserve the interest of the next generation.”
“If you destroy my country, I'll kill you. That's a legitimate thing,” Duterte said. “If you destroy our young children, I will kill you. That is a very correct statement.”
Threatening criminals with death is not a crime, he added, and if they're killed by the thousands, “that's not my problem.”
“My problem is how to take care of the law-abiding, God-fearing young persons of this Republic,” Duterte said.
He also brought up civilian deaths from airstrikes carried out by the United States in countries such as Afghanistan.
“When you bomb a village you intend to kill the militants, but you kill in the process the children there,” Duterte said. “Why do you say it is collateral damage to the West and to us it is murder?”
The tough-talking president, who rose to power with a promise to kill criminals, has faced sharp criticism from Western leaders and human rights groups for his brutal war on drugs. More than 3,000 have been killed since Duterte took office. Some were killed during confrontations with police, while others were gunned down by unknown attackers.
Duterte said the unknown deaths will be investigated.
Duterte, who has remained popular in the Philippines, has responded harshly to criticisms against the drug war, even lashing out at President Barack Obama and the European Union.
In a profanity-laced speech in Manila this month, Duterte said the United States should be supporting the Philippines in battling its drug problems instead of criticizing him for the rising death toll.
“Instead of helping us, the first hit was the State Department. So you can go to hell, Mr. Obama, you can go to hell,” Duterte said.
The European Union, he added, “better choose purgatory” because “hell is full already.”
Last month, Obama canceled a scheduled meeting with Duterte after being called an obscenity by the Philippine president. A spokesman later said in a statement that Duterte regretted that his comments “came across as a personal attack” on Obama.
Duterte also compared his crackdown on drugs to the Holocaust, saying he would like to “slaughter” millions of addicts just like Adolf Hitler “massacred” millions of Jewish people, according to GMA News.
During the Al Jazeera interview, Duterte was asked why he wouldn't put his country's resources toward rehabilitation, reform and health care. He said building rehabilitation facilities would cost millions and that there is nothing in the country's budget, which was prepared during the term of his predecessor, for that kind of expense.
“I would rather intimidate and strike fear in the hearts of the criminals,” Duterte said. “If it involves human rights, I don't give a s--t.”
Duterte, whose father was a former governor and whose mother was the leader of a movement against the regime of former president Ferdinand Marcos, became president after a landslide victory in May. Before that, he was the mayor of Davao in the southern island of Mindanao, where he had earned the nickname “The Punisher.”