Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday praised his war on drugs policy, but lamented that there is a “long way” to go in the controversial crackdown that has killed thousands.
In his final State of the Nation address before resigning next year, Duterte often stepped out of the script and struggled to keep up with the autocue as he railed for nearly three hours at the Communists, the child molesters and corrupt officials.
As expected, Duterte used the annual speech to brag about the government’s performance over the past five years – including its handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 1.5 million people and shattered the economy.
But the 76-year-old strongman also devoted much of his rambling speech to his “inflexible” anti-drug campaign that has officially killed more than 6,000 people.
Human rights groups put the figure in the tens of thousands and prosecutors at the International Criminal Court are seeking to investigate the campaign.
Duterte defended the crackdown, saying it had “led to the surrender of millions of drug addicts and the neutralization, capture and prosecution of thousands of drug figures.”
And it was not over yet.
“Although we have made great strides in ending the rebellion and insurgency in various parts of the country, we still have a long way to go in our fight against the proliferation of drugs,” Duterte told a audience of legislators, diplomats and judges.
It was the sixth and final State of the Nation address for the populist leader, who is not eligible to run again next year. He signaled a possible inclination for the vice-presidency.
Hours before the speech, around 3,000 demonstrators marched along a large avenue demanding the “end” of Duterte’s presidency.
# photo1 The war on drugs, the pandemic and the possibility of the president’s daughter succeeding him next year have been major concerns.
“We know how the Duterte administration has run the country over the past five years where there has been hunger, death, murder, injustice, tyranny,” said political satirist Mae Paner.
“It just has to stop now. “
Maristela Abenojar, a nurse wearing a white PPE suit, said health workers were treated like “sacrificial lambs” during the pandemic.
“A lot of us don’t just get sick, we die too,” the 59-year-old told AFP.
During the speech, Duterte urged people to get vaccinated against Covid-19, warning that another lockdown may be needed if the highly contagious Delta variant gets out of hand.
“The health and safety protocols we have in place have been shown to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus, but the best solution is vaccination,” said Duterte.
More than six million people have been fully vaccinated since the glacial vaccine rollout began in March, or about five percent of the country’s population.
The government returned millions of children to detention on Friday and tightened other restrictions as hospitals prepare for a spike in cases.
But Duterte admitted “we can’t afford more lockdowns lest our economy bleed to the point of causing irreversible damage.”
© 2021 AFP