Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged his critics in his State of the Union address Monday not to trivialize his drug war by muddling his anti-drug campaign with demands for human rights.
The controversial leader has made the drug war a central theme of his administration and began his address at the House of Representatives in Manila emphasizing what he said is his "unrelenting fight " on drugs. "Despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop," he said.
Duterte's 'law-and-order' image is under attack with growing concerns about rights violations in his anti-drug campaign.
The president was elected on a pledge to end the country's drug abuse problem, and officially there have been 5,000 drug-related killings or suspect deaths as a result of police operations. Media reports said, despite the crackdown, the price of illicit drugs has actually gone down, suggesting the campaign is not working.
According to the British Daily Mail, officials insist crime has dropped and thousands of drug dealers are behind bars, while a million drug users have registered for treatment. Manila's police chief, Oscar Albayalde. has acknowledged thousands have been killed, but says millions more live.
"I have resolved that no matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because it is the root cause of suffering," the president told the lawmakers.
Duterte warned drug dealers that "they have to stop because the alternative is either jail or hell."
Protesters outside the House of Representatives demanded Duterte deliver on the promises he made last year in his first State of the Union speech, including holding peace talks with communist insurgents and improving Internet speed.