President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday he took full responsibility for the bloody war on drugs that has killed thousands of people, but maintained he will never be tried by an international court.
“If there is any person who is going to prison, it would be me,” Duterte said in a speech during an event held by the government’s counter-insurgency task force.
“I assume full responsibility,” he added.
Duterte spoke a day after the justice ministry said it will review thousands of killings in the five-year-old campaign after releasing details of a first batch of cases that indicated foul play in dozens of deadly police operations.
The Philippines has come under pressure from the United Nations to investigate allegations of systematic murders of drug suspects, and the International Criminal Court recently announced it would investigate Duterte‘s anti-drug campaign.
More than 6,000 people have been killed by police in the crackdown, but activists say many thousands more drug users and peddlers were shot dead by mysterious gunmen. Police have denied involvement in those deaths.
Duterte, whose single six-year term limit ends next year, remained defiant, citing a continued scourge of drug dealers in the country, and said he would only face a Philippine court and a Philippine judge over any alleged crimes.
“I will repeat what I have said before: if you destroy my country and you destroy the young people by feeding them with drugs, you destroy the future,” Duterte said.
“If you destroy the country, I will kill you.”
He said former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, who has filed his candidacy to succeed Duterte in next year’s election, should not be culpable for any killings as he took his orders from the president.
Analysts have said Duterte would want an ally to win the election so he can shield himself from any legal action at home or abroad. –Editing by John Geddie and Mark Heinrich