Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, has referred to innocent people and children as “collateral damage” in his war on drugs because police use automatic weapons when confronting criminals.
Asked in an interview with al-Jazeera about minors caught up in the violence, Duterte said those cases would be investigated but added that police can kill hundreds of civilians without criminal liability.
He gave a hypothetical example of an officer using an M16 rifle when dealing with a “gangster” who wields a pistol. “When they meet, they exchange fire. With the policeman and the M16, it’s one burst, brrr, and [he] hits 1,000 people there and they die.
“It could not be negligence because you have to save your life. It could not be recklessness because you have to defend yourself,” he said.
Duterte then compared the killing of innocents in the Philippines to US attacks in wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan, where civilians are killed during airstrikes on militants.
“When you bomb a village you intend to kill the militants but you kill the children there … Why do you say it is collateral damage to the west and to us it is murder?”
Philippine law enforcement and vigilante groups have killed more than 3,800 people since Duterte took office on 30 June, part of a war on drugs he says will save the country.
About 1,500 of those died in police operations but most killings were carried out by armed groups which Duterte has, at times, publicly encouraged. His critics say the president has allowed an atmosphere of lawlessness to develop in which criminal groups can settle vendettas with impunity.
Regardless, the president has lashed out at at any criticism from domestic rights organisations and foreign governments for his brutal crackdown.
“We have 3 million drug addicts and it’s growing. So if we do not interdict this problem, the next generation will be having a serious problem,” he said.
“You destroy my country, I’ll kill you. And it’s a legitimate thing. If you destroy our young children, I will kill you. That is a very correct statement. There is nothing wrong in trying to preserve the interest of the next generation.
“In my country there is no law that says I cannot threaten criminals,” he added. “I do not care what the human rights guys say. I have a duty to preserve the generation. If it involves human rights, I don’t give a shit. I have to strike fear.”