"There are beasts and vultures preying on the helpless," Duterte said in his speech
The Philippines is battling the drug trade and fighting ISIS-linked militants
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte came out swinging during his second State of the Nation Address, vowing to continue his government’s fight against drug smugglers and ISIS-linked militants in the country’s south.
The theme of the marathon speech was “a comfortable life for all,” focusing on his administration’s three priorities: universal prosperity, law and order and peace, according to the presidential communications office. The language throughout the speech was classic Duterte – imaginative, colorful and violent.
“There is a jungle out there, there are beasts and vultures preying on the helpless, innocent and unsuspecting. I will not allow the ruin of the youth, the disintegration of families and the retrogression of communities caused by criminals whose greed for money is as insatiable as it is devoid of moral purpose,” Duterte said.
“You harm the children in whose the hands the future of this republic is entrusted and I will hound you to the very gates of hell.”
The address was 15 pages long, according to CNN Philippines. But Duterte, who’s known for his rambling and long-winded speaking style, spoke for about two hours. At one point he apologized for going over time.
He touched upon a laundry list of challenges including climate change, corruption, food production, the death penalty, Philippines sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea, abortion, mining and tax evasion.
The President reiterated his admission about taking part in killings while he was mayor of Davao city. He has also denied the same story. “I did kill someone, that’s right. when I was mayor a little over 23 years ago, (when) I was mayor of Davao,” he said.
But his most colorful language was reserved for the bloody drug war and the southern insurgency.
According to official figures from the Philippines military, 427 militants, 99 government forces and 45 civilians had been killed as of July 20 in fighting against the Maute militant group, which invaded and took control of the southern city of Marawi earlier this year.
One factor slowing down government efforts to quell the violence are the 300 people who are still being held hostage, Duterte said at a news conference following the address. “The people of Marawi need help. Caught in the crossfire between government troops and Muslim extremists, they have been though hell,” he said in the speech.
The conflict has also uprooted hundreds of thousands of people, creating a dire humanitarian crisis that authorities are struggling to contain.
Duterte, who heaped praise for the country’s military and police during the Monday address, declared martial law in May after fighters from the Maute group began their assault. The government has since granted Duterte’s request to extend it until the end of the year, though the country’s constitution only permits the president to declare martial law for 60 days at a time.
“If you do anarchy, I will order the soldiers and the police to shoot, even if I have to bury a thousand Filipinos,” Duterte said.
“Marawi, we will finish it. Until the last terrorist is taken out,” he said at the news conference.
Duterte also said the Philippines Army needs another 35,000 to 40,000 recruits to meet current and future threats. “Today’s reality demands, necessitates an armed forces that is strong,” he told reporters. “I will build a credible armed forces that can fight at all fronts everywhere.”
Duterte has come under international criticism for ignoring human rights and due process – Human Rights Watch called his first year “a human rights calamity” – but he remains wildly popular among Filipinos. A June survey from Pulse Asia Research, an opinion polling firm, put Duterte’s approval rating at 82%.
Many in the Philippines see him as a man of the people, a straight shooter who genuinely wants to help his country but whose style (he compared himself to Hitler and joked about rape) often gets him into trouble.
After the address Duterte took to the rare step of speaking in person to demonstrators who had gathered near the country’s House of Representatives.
“Give me more time, I will deliver,” he said.
Authorities expected about 7,750 anti-Duterte protesters and 4,900 pro-Duterte to take to the streets, Philippine National Police spokesman Col. Dionard Carlos told CNN.
Duterte’s key campaign promise was to stymie the country’s drug trade. The Philippines has 1.8 million drug users, according to the Country’s Dangerous Drugs Board (though the board’s DDB chair “guesstimated” the figure may be as high as 3 million in an interview with CNN Philippines.)
Nearly half of them use methamphetamine, which is known locally as “shabu” or “ice,” according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Critics argue Duterte has endorsed an ends-justify-the-means mentality, condoning the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug users and dealers in order to clean up his country’s streets.
“No matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue, because that is the root cause of much evil and so much suffering,” Duterte said. “The fight will be unrelenting, despite international and local pressures the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease, that they have to stop, because the alternatives are either jail or hell.”
Philippines authorities have accused the international media of exaggerating the issue. Police said that 3,200 “drug personalities” had been killed in the drug war as of June 20, though earlier official estimates put the number as high as 7,500 dead. Duterte has told international audiences that the issue is a national one and that – as President – it’s within his authority to deal with drug crisis.
“To the critics against the fight: your efforts will be better spent if you use the influence, moral authority and ascendancy of your organizations over of your respective sectors to educate your people on the evil of illegal drugs instead of condemning the authorities unjustly, blaming them for every killing in this country,” he said.
Friends and foes
Another person Duterte castigated during his speech was former US President Barack Obama, whom he called a “son of a bitch” last year.
“First it was his State Department spokesman, who acted like a hotshot and thought he was smarter than me. Then the staff of the President and then Obama,” he said.
Current US President Donald Trump has praised the war on drugs. Duterte said that shows an incoherence in US foreign policy and should make Filipinos suspicious of their American counterparts.
Duterte has previously said he would ditch the United States – a longtime ally of the Philippines – in favor of stronger ties with Russia and China, a country he thanked for committing to build two bridges in the country. During an October trip to Beijing, Duterte secured a series of Chinese investments in his country.
The Philippines leader credited Manila’s warming relationship with Beijing for helping to ease tensions in the South China Sea, where both countries have overlapping territorial claims.
CNN’s Kathy Quiano, Janie Octia and Euan McKirdy contributed to this report