MANILA – Philippine National Police chief, Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa on Friday apologized for his earlier statement that urged the murder of drug peddlers.
Dela Rosa, a key official executing President Rodrigo Duterte's orders to stop drugs, said his emotions got the best of him after meeting the "victims of drug use" in Bacolod.
On Thursday, dela Rosa called on drug users to kill traffickers and burn their homes, as he seeks to maintain momentum in Duterte's controversial crime war that has claimed 2,000 lives.
"Why don't you give them a visit, pour gasoline on their homes and set these on fire to register your anger," he said.
"They're all enjoying your money, money that destroyed your brain. You know who the drug lords are. Would you like to kill them? Go ahead. Killing them is allowed because you are the victim."
Dela Rosa's comments followed Duterte's own controversial directives that have sparked criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups.
WATCH: Dela Rosa tells drug pushers to kill drug lords
While the top cop regretted his statement, Malacanang downplayed the controversial quote.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said dela Rosa was just being his usual self when he made that call.
''Hindi naman siya nagte-threaten, drama lang iyun, for effect. Alam mo naman ang mga Pilipino…. gulpi de gulat lang yun
(He was not issuing threats. It was just drama. You know Filipinos. It was just a scare tactic.),'' Panelo said.
When asked if Duterte supported Dela Rosa's call to murder and commit arson, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella denied that was the police chief's intent.
"There is no such call. It's a passionate statement," Abella told reporters on Friday, without elaborating.
Duterte, 71, won May elections in a landslide on a promise to kill tens of thousands of suspected criminals in an unprecedented blitz that would eliminate illegal drugs in six months.
When he took office on June 30, Duterte told a crowd in Manila: "If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful."
Days after his election win, Duterte also offered security officials bounties for the bodies of drug dealers.
The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, said such directives "amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law".
However Dela Rosa and Duterte have insisted they are working within the law.
Nevertheless, Dela Rosa told a Senate inquiry this week that the confirmed number of people to have died in the drug war was 1,946.
He said police had shot dead 756 suspects in self-defense.
He said there were another 1,190 killings under investigation, but said they were likely due to drug gangs murdering people who could implicate them, as he hailed the success so far in the crime war.
"I admit many are dying but our campaign, now, we have the momentum," he told the Senate. – with Agence France-Presse