MANILA, PHILIPPINES —
Earlier this week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened corrupt government officials with the prospect of being thrown out of a helicopter in midair, warning he had done it himself before and would do it again.
In a speech to typhoon victims Thursday, the fiery-tempered former prosecutor said he once hurled a Chinese man suspected of rape and murder out of a helicopter.
"If you are corrupt, I will fetch you using a helicopter to Manila and I will throw you out. I have done this before — why would I not do it again?" Duterte said during the address, a clip of which was posted on a video feed of the president's office.
But in an interview with CNN that aired Thursday, Duterte indicated the incident with a helicopter hadn't really happened.
"We had no helicopter; we don't use that," he told CNN.
“I am playing you,” he added. “Your team knows I really want to say jokes.”
In another interview Thursday with Philippine news channel ABS-CBN, Duterte was noncommittal when asked about the incident.
"Helicopter to throw a person?" he asked. "And if that is true, I will not admit it."
His spokesman, Ernesto Abella, suggested earlier the story was an "urban legend."
Earlier claim of killings
Duterte's latest threat came a few weeks after he admitted killing people during his 22 years as a mayor of Davao City, sometimes riding a motorcycle looking for "encounters to kill."
Some senators have warned Duterte that he risks impeachment over his comments.
The United States, a longtime Philippines ally that has expressed concern about Duterte's war on drugs and his anti-American rhetoric, said it was aware of his statements about the helicopter.
"As we have stated previously, we are deeply concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines," State Department spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen said in an emailed response to a Reuters inquiry.
Duterte has repeatedly said those killings were part of legitimate police operations, including a hostage incident, and those killed were criminals, not suspects.
Duterte also said six people arrested last week during a seizure of more than half a metric ton of methamphetamine, known locally as "shabu," were fortunate he was out of town.
"They were lucky I was not in Manila that time. If I had known there were that much shabu inside a house, I would definitely kill you," he said.
"Let's not make any drama — I will personally gun you down if nobody else will do it."
The United Nations' top human rights envoy has called for an investigation into Duterte's claims of killing people, to which Duterte last week responded by calling him "stupid," an "idiot" and a "son of a bitch" who should go back to school.