Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to impose martial law on the country if he deems it necessary to continue his administration’s violent crackdown against illegal drugs.
"I have to protect the Filipino people. It is my duty. And I tell you now, if I have to declare martial law, I will declare it," Duterte said, in a speech before a group businessmen in his hometown of Davao on Saturday night.
"I don't care about the Supreme Court. No one can stop me," he said. "The right to preserve one's life and my nation ... transcends everything else, even the limitations."
Duterte has vowed to stamp out the trade and use of illegal drugs in the Philippines to stop the country from becoming what he called a narco-state. The crackdown has led to at least 5,700 deaths in the last six months, and accusations of security forces being involved in extra-judicial killings — a practice Duterte endorses.
In addition to the killings, around one million alleged drug dealers and users have handed themselves in to police to avoid the violence of the crackdown. Ties between the Philippines and its longtime ally the United States have been strained by the crackdown, with Washington suspending aid to the country, and Duterte publicly renouncing the alliance, and seeking closer ties with China and Russia.
Duterte on Saturday also pledged to ignore a provision of the country’s constitution, which limits periods of martial law to 60 days, and only in response to an invasion or rebellion. Martial law would allow Duterte to use the country’s military to enforce civilian law, and lift restrictions on detaining suspects without charge.
The rule limiting martial law was written into the country’s constitution after the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who imposed the status on the country between 1972 and 1981. The country’s constitution also allows its congress and Supreme Court to review and possibly suspend any imposition of martial law.
Duterte’s comments on martial law are not his only foray into controversial territory this week. Earlier, he said he has ordered troops to fire on militants behind a wave of kidnappings, even if it results in the deaths of hostages.
He said he instructed the navy and the coast guard that "if there are kidnappers and they're trying to escape, bomb them all."
"They say 'hostages.' Sorry, collateral damage," he said.
In recent weeks, Duterte has further courted controversy, publicly claiming to have thrown a rape suspect out of a helicopter and threatening corrupt officials with the same punishment. A senior United Nations official called for a murder investigation after Duterte boasted that he had personally killed three suspected criminals.