Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said that there was a time when some people under the influence of drugs used to rape beautiful women who were "worth going to jail" for.

Speaking at a gathering of senior government figures and lawmakers in Manila on Tuesday (19 December), he said: "And you know what? May I be forgiven by Maggie dela Riva. During our time, the rape victims were beautiful."

In 1967, Dela Riva, a young Filipino actress, was abducted by four men high on drugs and taken to a hotel where she was raped. All hailed from elite families. While one of the rapists died of drug overdose in prison in 1970, the other three were executed by electric chair.

Duterte explained what he sees as the difference between sexual assaults by drug addicts in the past and these days. He said rape victims used to be "worth dying for". And today, sexual assaults are made even against children, he said.

"I cannot imagine now modern times... even one-month-old infants are being raped," he said.

Urging strong punishment for rapists and drug addicts, he said: "That's why they were electrocuted. That's their punishment," referring to the rapists of the actress.

"If you make three million of my country as slaves to a chemical called 'shabu' (methamphetamine), you will really make me feel bad. And shabu, one of the immediate and long-term use, shrinks the brain of a person," added Duterte, who is waging a bloody war against illegal drugs in the Southeast Asian nation.

He dwelt at length on the narcotics trade in the Philippines and how to curb the menace.

His comments came just a day after he spoke on LGBT rights and how he was not sure whether he wanted to be a boy or a girl in his adolescence.

This is not the first time Duterte has made controversial remarks on women and rape-related issues. In May 2017, Duterte joked that his troops were free to rape up to three women each and that he would personally claim responsibility for it. Following that, in July 2017, he quipped that even a Miss Universe can be raped, but he would not allow anyone to target children. His remarks invited scorn from both inside and outside the Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (l) holds a AK-47 assault rifle as Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu looks
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has waged a bloody war against drugs Reuters file photo