MANILA - If forced to, the Philippines will protect the rights of its law-abiding citizens and law enforcers over drug lords and criminals who are out to "kill and destroy," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told the United Nations (UN) on Sunday.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly slammed UN officials for expressing concern over the Philippines' anti-narcotics campaign that 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.
Manila is "one with the United Nations in being uncompromising" on the rule of law and "the protection of each and every human being's rights," Cayetano said during 73rd UN General Assembly.
"We may somehow and sometimes differ in how we express ourselves, yet this should not be interpreted as turning our backs on the universal declaration on human rights," he said.
"On the contrary, the Philippines and President Duterte are instituting all these reforms to be able to protect the rights of every single Filipino and every single human being living in the Philippines -- yes the rights of all Filipinos and all human beings, if that is at all possible," he added.
However, if the government has to choose between the rights of a law-abiding citizen and the law enforcer versus the drug lord or criminal who "seeks to kill and destroy," Cayetano said "it is clear that we will protect the former."
"Wouldn't you do the same? Which country, which leader wouldn't do the same?" he told world leaders.
The government, he added, is "on track in salvaging" the country from becoming a "narco-state."
Activists, however, have called for legal action against Duterte after he appeared to admit responsibility last week for extra-judicial killings (EJKs) under his war on drugs.
"Ano kasalanan ko? Nagnakaw ba ako dyan ni piso? Did I prosecute na pinakulong ko? Ang kasalanan ko lang, yung mga extra-judicial killings,” the President said Thursday, without elaborating, at an oath-taking ceremony for bureaucrats.
(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 is facing a preliminary examination before the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the alleged crimes against humanity under his administration's war on drugs.
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.
The move has been questioned before the Supreme Court, with opposition senators saying the withdrawal should be invalidated since the Senate, which ratified the Rome Statute, did not concur through a two-thirds vote.