14 December, 2016
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he killed suspected drug dealers while serving as mayor of the southern city of Davao.
Duterte made the comment Monday as he spoke to a group of business leaders at the presidential palace in Manila.
"In Davao, I used to do it personally," Duterte said, referring to his 20-year term as mayor of the country's second largest city. "Just to show to the guys that, if I can do it, why can't you?" he said.
He added that he would ride around the city on a motorcycle looking for a situation, in his words, "to be able to kill."
The Philippine justice minister later told reporters that Duterte may have been exaggerating. Vitaliano Aguirre II said, "The president always resorts to hyperbole, he always exaggerates just to put his message across."
Duterte was known for carrying out strong policies to crush crime as mayor of Davao. His critics, including rights group Human Rights Watch, accused him of using death squads to kill more than 1,000 people in Davao.
Duterte was elected on a promise to greatly reduce crime and corruption across the Philippines.
Since taking office in June, Duterte has been criticized for his extreme measures against illegal drug activities. Police and unofficial civilian security groups have killed more than 5,000 people since then.
Human rights groups, the United Nations, and officials from the United States and European Union have all criticized Duterte's drug war.
The Philippine president has rejected the criticism and promised to keep pushing forward with his anti-drug campaign.
Duterte is set to take over leadership of the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The Philippines period as chair of the 10-nation group begins in 2017.
ASEAN member disputes over territory in the South China Sea is expected to be a main issue of discussion next year.
The Philippines and China dispute large areas of the South China Sea. In July, an international court ruled in favor of the Philippines. China rejected the decision. Three ASEAN members - Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.
In the past, the Philippines strongly objected to Chinese action in disputed areas of the South China Sea. But, Duterte has taken a softer position and moved to strengthen ties with China.
Tim Johnston is with the nongovernmental organization International Crisis Group.
"The chair of ASEAN has the power to set the agenda," Johnston said. "What [the chair] has been used for historically is to cut things out of the agenda, particularly the South China Sea."
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs says Duterte has identified "maritime security and cooperation" as one of his six top interests for 2017.
Some Asia experts believe strong ASEAN movement in 2017 on the South China Sea could make China rethink its activities in the disputed waters. But they say that weak action, or none, could lead to additional Chinese development in the sea.
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Ralph Jennings and Richard Green reported this story for VOANews. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English, with additional material from the Associated Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
exaggerate – v. make something seem bigger, better, worse, etc. than it is; to stretch the truth
hyperbole – n. words that make something seem better or worse that it actually is
death squads – n. a group of people given the task of killing others, usually with the indirect approval of government
agenda - n. a list of things to be considered or done