Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte promised to kill 100,000 criminals within his first six months in office and said there would be so many corpses in Manila Bay that the “fish will grow fat.”
Turns out the controversial leader may have some firsthand experience: On Monday, Duterte claimed that he’d personally killed criminal suspects during his time as mayor of his home city of Davao.
"In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police] that if I can do it why can't you?” he said while speaking to business leaders at the presidential palace. "I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”
The claim prompted two senators to call for Duterte’s impeachment. “That is betrayal of public trust and that constitutes high crimes … and high crimes is a ground for impeachment under the constitution,” Sen. Leila de Lima, a prominent critic of Duterte’s, told CNN. But the Philippine justice secretary said Duterte “exaggerated” during his latest remarks.
Since taking office in June, Duterte has unapologetically called for his security services to wage war on the country’s drug dealers and addicts, and nearly 6,000 people have already been killed. It’s the first time he’s made an admission of seeking out criminal suspects to kill since becoming president, but it’s actually not the first time he’s suggested he’s taken the life of someone.
As the BBC notes, Duterte has refused to provide consistent accounts of whether he’d personally killed criminal suspects or been directly involved with death squads targeting criminals in the past — and under what circumstances.
Duterte, who is sometimes likened to Donald Trump for his blunt rhetorical style and strongman persona, served as mayor of Davao for seven terms before becoming president. During his two decades running the southern city, he won plaudits for sharply reducing crime in the once violence-plagued city, but he also earned notoriety for supporting vigilante death squads that executed hundreds of people without trial.
Since becoming president this summer, Duterte has taken that shoot first, ask-questions-never approach and applied it on a national level. His anti-drug campaign has resulted in the death of about 6,000 people, the majority of whom were killed by vigilantes or gunmen thought to be government authorities.
Duterte has taken to trumpeting his loathing for drug users and dealers. In September, he likened his quest to rid the Philippines of drug addicts to Hitler’s purge of European Jews, saying he’d be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts.
Earlier in December, Duterte said that during a phone call with Trump, the president-elect indicated that he approved of Duterte’s bloody methods. That’s a stark change from President Barack Obama, who has strongly condemned Duterte in the past. (Duterte has responded by calling Obama a “son of a whore.”)
“He was quite sensitive to our war on drugs and he wishes me well in my campaign and said that we are doing, as he so put it, 'the right way,’” Duterte said of Trump.
Both Duterte and Trump extended invitations to each other for meetings in the future during the call. “I could sense a good rapport," Duterte explained.