Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Monday to sustain the momentum of his bloody war on drugs, telling the nation in an annual address that the fight would be as "relentless and chilling" as during his first two years in power.
Duterte told a joint session of Congress the anti-narcotics campaign, which has killed thousands of people and attracted international condemnation, was "far from over", and took a swipe at activists demanding it be stopped.
"The illegal drugs war will not be sidelined, instead it will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began," said Duterte, whose crackdown is now the subject of a preliminary examination by prosecutors of the International Criminal Court. "Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives," he said, adding that crackdown aimed to stop drugs destroying families.
Since Duterte's war began, police have killed more than 4,500 people they say were suspected drug pushers who resisted arrest. Human rights groups are alarmed by the bloodshed and say thousands have been summarily executed in what amounts to systematic extermination of drug users in the poorest communities. Police vigorously reject that.
He said he would approve within two days a law allowing the country's Muslim minority to start a process toward self-rule, and prevent Islamic State from furthering its influence.
Thousands of demonstrators, representing the church, women's groups and labor unions, rallied near Congress to denounce what they said were Duterte's abusive, anti-poor policies. Colorful effigies of the maverick leader were burned during a street march. Duterte's supporters held counter-rallies nearby.
Duterte's opponents scoffed at his touted achievements and said his war on drugs had been a failure. Others said his speech was nothing new, including Senator Risa Hontiveros, who described it as "like watching and listening to a bad movie rerun".