MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president told drug suspects in a central province Tuesday to look for a way to get arrested and then stay in jail if they want to live longer, in his latest threat in his bloody anti-drug crackdown.
President Rodrigo Duterte did not identify the targets of his warning in a televised threat-laden speech, but referred to people who grew rich through illegal drugs in Cebu province.
"You know if I were you guys in Cebu, stay in jail. You want to live longer? Stay in jail," Duterte said. "Look for your own reason to be in jail. Do not go out of that facility. It would not be healthy for you."
There has been at least one high-profile drug suspect, however, who was shot to death by police in his jail cell in what was suspected of being a rubout.
Police killed town mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a jail in central Leyte province in 2016 in what they said was a gunbattle, but government investigators declared it a murder. Murder complaints against an officer and his men involved in the shootout were later downgraded to a lesser charge that allowed them to be released on bail and reinstated into the force.
In a rambling speech during the Philippine navy's founding anniversary that initially touched on terrorism and South China Sea territorial threats, Duterte veered to his anti-drug crackdown. He issued a veiled threat to policemen involved in drugs and acknowledged the national force has been infiltrated by criminals.
"Some of them, sadly, are really into drugs ... most of all the policemen because they are aplenty. I'm just warning them that if you are into it, you will be the first to go," he said.
"It is no surprise that you are just also falling down one by one and the mayors and the village captains," he said.
"And to all of those criminals out there, to all those rogue policemen and all creating hell for us, I have yet sufficient time to correct all of these things," Duterte, a former mayor, said. "You might not like the way how I correct things but I would just love to warn you that there is no turning back on this and I am there in the drug war in front."
More than 4,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed in clashes with police that officials say erupted because the suspects fought back. Human rights watchdogs have cited much higher death tolls, which the government disputes.
Duterte denies condoning extrajudicial killings and has lashed out at critics, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, Western governments and U.N. human rights officials, who have raised alarm over the drug killings and threats to human rights.
But Duterte disclosed Friday that he wanted to reply to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein's critical remarks in March but was advised "to shut up" at the time by his national security adviser, who told him that Zeid was royalty from Jordan, which was providing the Philippines with two assault helicopters.
Zeid has suggested that Duterte "needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation" over his "unacceptable" remarks about some top human rights defenders.