MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier claim that his "only sin" was extrajudicial killings was only a "matter of language" that was misinterpreted, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Friday.
Duterte said in a recent public address that his "only sin" was "extra-judicial killings" (EJKs) or the illegal executions perpetrated by police who were part of the government’s war on drugs.
"Ang sinasabi niya lang, iyan lang ang issue niyo sa akin, EJK. Ang isyu niyo lang sakin bilang presidente ng bansa ay extrajudicial killing," Panelo told ANC's Dateline Philippines.
[He was saying, telling the public, that their only issue with him as the country's president was extrajudicial killings.]
"It's a matter of language. He's a Visayan, he's not a Manileño, he's not Tagalog," he said.
It should not be taken as an admission of guilt because Duterte had "been disputing that ever since," Panelo said.
"You have to take everything in context in reference to his previous statements, in reference to his SONA speech," he said.
"He said he declares war [on drugs], but there will be hell to pay for abusive police officers," he said.
Panelo said there may also be deliberate attempts to twist the words of the President.
"They'll be using everything and anything that will put him in bad light. That is the job of critics, that is the job of detractors," he said.
"They want them out of office so anything that can be twisted, be taken out of context, they will do that," he said.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said the President was "not serious" about his statements about the unlawful killings.
“Alam mo naman si Presidente, ano. Hindi na naman iyan seryoso ‘no… I don’t think na ang konteksto niyan ay literal,” Roque told dzRH.
(You know the President. We know he was not serious about it... I don't think that should be taken literally.)
At least 4,854 drug suspects have been killed in anti-drug operations, police records show. The figure is being disputed by human rights groups, saying the figures are way higher.