MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday shrugged off the rising number of people being killed in his pursuit to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs.
With the number of slain suspected drug peddlers rising by the day and questions being raised on the manner anti-drug raids are being carried out, human rights advocates are now taking Duterte to task.
There have also been concerns that poor people have become the main victims of Duterte's war on drugs, with many slain suspected drug peddlers not being given their day in court.
But Duterte is defiant, saying impoverished drug ushers are most likely to be drug peddlers themselves.
''I do not care. I really don’t care because I know na kapag iyang bangag na -- a user is always a pusher except you are the son of an Ayala or Gokongwei (''I do not care. I really don’t care because once a person is high on drugs -– a user is always a pusher, except when you are the son of an Ayala or Gokongwei),' Duterte said.
''Kung ordinary, taga-Tondo, once you get hooked on drugs, you must find another one to [get] hooked with you para siya ang magbigay ng suporta (Ordinary people like those living in Tondo, once they get hooked on drugs, they must find someone else to get hooked with them who will also support their addiction.)," he added.
Duterte said addicts who have been using illegal drugs for a long period are already beyond redemption since rehabilitation "is no longer viable" for them.
He said with the number of self-confessed addicts turning themselves in to authorities, the government is now finding it hard to address their need for rehabilitation.
Citing data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Duterte projects that the country now has about 3.7 million drug dependents.
Duterte also cited stories which he said triggered his sheer hatred towards illegal drugs.
He said a Davao City-based friend of him once confessed that his drug dependent son raped his own sister.
He also recounted an incident where a man killed his own niece.
Duterte, who ruled Davao City for two decades with an iron fist, has been alarming human rights advocates because of his nonchalant attitude towards the rising death toll in his war on drugs.
The president earlier said he would gladly back policemen who would face charges in the performance of their duty, raising fears that unscrupulous cops will be emboldened to do illegal activities in the guise of legitimate law enforcement.
In his first address to the nation, Duterte scored human rights advocates for insisting that he respect the rights of suspected drug peddlers, saying '''human rights must not be used as an excuse to destroy the country."
The president was also criticized for describing as ''dramatic'' a viral photo of a slain pedicab driver accused of being a drug pusher.
Data gathered by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group show that there have been 834 drug-related fatalities from May 10 to August 4.
Of the total number, 512 were killed during police operations, while 246 were killed by unidentified gunmen. At least 76 were victims of summary executions.
The rising body count has caught the attention of the international community, with over 200 non-governmental organizations signing a letter stating that the killings of suspected drug pushers and users ''do not constitute acceptable drug control measures.''