The Philippines’ brutal war on drugs will continue to be “as relentless and chilling” as the day it began, the country’s leader has assured his citizens.
Speaking during his annual state of the nation address, Rodrigo Duterte defended his crackdown on narcotics, which has drawn fierce international criticism following thousands of deaths.
The president said he would press ahead with his war on drugs, which is now in its third year and is largely backed by the public in the Philippines.
“Let me begin by putting it bluntly: the war against illegal drugs is far from over,” said Mr Duterte, addressing fellow politicians, dignitaries and celebrities.
“It will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began.”
Since the crackdown began in June 2016, authorities claim 4,354 people accused of being drug users or dealers have been killed in police operations.
But human rights groups say the actual number killed could be up to three times higher, with some claiming the deaths could amount to crimes against humanity.
Referring to his critics, Mr Duterte added: “If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of demonstrations, your protests which I find misdirected, then you got it all wrong.
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives.”
The latest comments come after the leader threatened to slap UN investigator Agnes Callamard in November last year after she criticised his stance on drugs.
Speaking to an audience of Filipinos in Vietnam at the time, Mr Duterte said he told Ms Callamard: “If you investigate me, I will slap you.”
He told the crowd: “I will slap her in front of you. Why? Because you are insulting me.”