Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hasn’t slacked in touting his drug war.
Even an audience of young children doesn’t seem to have tempered Duterte’s posture toward the drug trade and the people in it.
“I am angry,” Duterte said at an event for 4- to 6-year-old Kid Scouts and 7- to 10-year-old Cub Scouts. “I will kill people if they destroy our youth.”
Duterte’s anti-drug campaign was blamed for more than 7,000 killings between when he took office on June 30, 2016, and when the Philippine National Police were suspended from the effort at the end of January.
More than 2,500 suspected “drug personalities” were killed in what Philippine authorities say were police operations, while 3,600 deaths are under investigation. Police have also been accused of conducting extrajudicial killings. (Their suspension came after police officers killed a South Korean businessman in a kidnapping attempt.)
Duterte, who was accused of involvement in extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor of Davao City in the southern Philippines, has not shied in promoting his bloody campaign against drugs, nor from threatening alleged drug pushers.
“I am really strict,” he told the Scouts, according to Philippine news site Rappler. “And they say I kill people. I really will kill people if they destroy our children.”
“You drug addicts, since you’ve been identified, avoid the streets, stay in your homes because I will throw you in Manila Bay,” Duterte went on, switching between English and Filipino. “I’ll make you fertilizer for the fish.”
During the event, Duterte was named the group’s chief scout, which is a title extended to all presidents. Duterte also exhorted the youths there to pursue military service.
“Who wants to be a soldier? Die for their country?” he said. “I’m depending on that. I’m depending on you to become soldiers.”
“I am counting on you, are you ready?” Duterte asked. “Answer me, children. Always love your country.”
Duterte has maintained high overall approval and trust ratings (though those have slipped among the poorest Filipinos). The children on hand were reportedly enthused by Duterte’s comments, but elsewhere in the country, young kids have been caught up in the violent anti-drug campaign.
Between July and November 2016, at least 29 minors were reportedly killed, either by unidentified gunmen or in police operations.
Duterte’s government is also backing a bill to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old to prevent what officials called “the pampering of youthful offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”
Opponents of the measure say it will endanger children with no evidence it will reduce crime.