MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's detractors are "twisting" his words to make it appear that he admitted ordering killings under his anti-narcotics drive, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Sunday.
Duterte, at an oath-taking ceremony for bureaucrats last Thursday, referred to extra-judicial killings (EJKs) as his "only sin."
"Ano kasalanan ko? Nagnakaw ba ako d'yan ni piso? Did I prosecute na pinakulong ko? Ang kasalanan ko lang, yung mga extra-judicial killings,” the President said, without elaborating.
(What is my sin? Did I steal, even one peso? Did I prosecute somebody whom I jailed? My only sin is the extrajudicial killing.)
Duterte meant to say that he could not be accused of corruption and that he has nothing to do with the arrest of some of his critics, said Panelo in a statement.
"It is only the baseless allegation of him being behind the extra-judicial killings that appears to tar his governance," he continued.
"That was what he meant when he made the aforesaid statement, the meaning of which is now, as always, being twisted by the perennial nit pickers of his uncommon lingua franca," he added.
The President, he said, is a Visayan and "not adept at expressing himself in Pilipino."
Since Duterte took power in 2016, his war on drugs has seen at least 4,200 killed after allegedly fighting authorities, according to police figures.
Human rights groups say the death toll is higher and does not include killings by alleged state-sponsored "vigilantes" -- which the government denies.
"The President will not stop at continuing his war against illegal drugs, a duty imposed on him by the Constitution. Extra-judicial killings are the result of members of the drug syndicates killing each other due to fraud in their dealings as well as a means of protecting and avenging themselves from whistle blowers," said Panelo.
The death of some policemen in anti-drug efforts shows that narcotic traffickers "use violence in resisting arrest," he added.
The effectiveness of the anti-drug campaign is validated by the public's approval, reflected by a recent opinion poll, he said.
Duterte is facing a preliminary examination before the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the alleged crimes against humanity under his narcotics crackdown.
Earlier this year, the Philippines notified the UN secretary-general of its decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding treaty, about a month after the court announced the probe against the President.