Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged lawmakers on Monday to bring back the death penalty as part of his internationally-condemned crackdown on narcotics in which police have already killed thousands.
Buoyed by exceptionally high approval ratings and a legislature dominated by his allies, Duterte used his annual State of the Nation address to urge action on a key unrealised plank of his tough-on-crime stance.
“I respectfully request congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs as well as plunder,” he said referring also to the nation’s deep-rooted corruption problem.
“My countrymen, it is a sad commentary that we cannot distinguish our need from our greed, our principles from prejudices,” he told hundreds of assembled lawmakers, diplomats and celebrities in Manila.
Amnesty International immediately warned over the proposal’s impact on a nation where police claim to have killed more than 5,300 drug suspects, but activists say the true toll is at least four times higher.
“Talk of bringing back the death penalty for drug-related crimes is abhorrent, and risks aggravating the current climate of impunity,” Amnesty section director in the Philippines Butch Olano said.
Though Duterte’s campaign is the subject of a recently launched review by the United Nations’ rights body and a preliminary inquiry from International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors, he was defiant in his address.
“Duterte — extrajudicial killing — report to the ICC,” he said. “If you can provide me with a good comfortable cell, heated during winter time… unlimited conjugal visits, we can understand each other.”
– ‘Representative’ of China? –
In May’s mid-term elections Duterte backers won control of the Senate, which had stopped cold some of his most controversial proposals, such as bringing back capital punishment.
However, his allies, including the daughter of deceased former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the first head of Duterte’s drug war, have voiced support for the death penalty.
Just as the president began his 90-minute address, he pointed to the popular support that underpins his brash rule, which faces censure for locking up detractors and attacking critical journalists.
“The latest survey results shows that my disapproval rating is three percent,” he said to applause. It “inspires me with determination to pursue relentlessly what we have started.”
Yet, Duterte’s embrace of China is a weak spot among segments of the Philippine public and he devoted a long section of his speech to defending his stance.
The sinking last month of a Philippine fishing vessel by a Chinese boat in the disputed South China Sea stoked simmering anger over the issue.
Duterte set aside the once tense standoff over Beijing’s extensive claims to the resource-rich waterway to court investment, but he faces accusations of trading away Philippine sovereignty.
Thousands of demonstrators, both for and against the president’s policies, massed outside the legislature building where he delivered his address.
“China also claims the property and he is in possession. That is the problem,” Duterte said. “We are claiming the same but we are not in possession.”
“I will send my marines there and drive away Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you not one of them will come alive,” he added.
Opposition lawmaker Risa Hontiveros took to Twitter to attack, writing “It appeared like it was not a Philippine president speaking but a representative of China.”