Rodrigo Duterte continues to defend widespread killings that have become a major part of his ambitious war on drugs. In a speech on 8 March, the Philippines president explained that in order to "destroy the apparatus", it was necessary to target the poor, who are most likely to be involved in street-level drug peddling.

Drug cartels do not recruit millionaires and the rich are not the ones standing to gain by selling drugs, the president elucidated in his speech in Pasay City. "We have to destroy the apparatus. It needs people killed... that's just how it is," he said, according to ABS CBN. "You cannot stop the movement of drugs in the entire country when you do not finish everything."

Duterte's comments followed a recent report by Human Rights Watch, which claimed that authorities were targeting poorer communities in particular, where many of the victims were drug users and not dealers.

"Almost all of the victims were either unemployed or worked menial jobs, including as rickshaw drivers or porters, and lived in slum neighbourhoods or informal settlements," HRW mentioned in its report.

In his speech to the Philippine Councilors League, the radical leader also addressed allegations that during his tenure as the mayor of Davos, he led a death squad that carried out extrajudicial killings. "I'm facing so many allegations, some are invented but some are true. I admit many died along the way, but there never was a time I executed a person kneeling down or with his hands pleading," he said, adding that he has opted to "shut up" rather than defend himself against the accusations.

President Duterte
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks before Philippine Councilors League in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines on 8 March REUTERS/Erik De Castro

"If I were to try to read, much less answer, all attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I can and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything, but if the end brings me out wrong, ten angels of god swearing I was right could make no difference."