MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Wednesday to resort to emergency powers and enforce them “to the hilt” to deal with relentless criticism over his human rights record, crimes and government wrongdoing.
Duterte, who placed the southern third of the archipelago nation last year under martial law to battle Muslim militants, said “there’s no difference actually between martial law and a declaration of national emergency.”
“Even with this meager emergency power, I will use it to the hilt (to) put things in order,” the brash-talking president said in a late-night news conference upon arrival from a South Korean trip.
He has threatened before to resort to authoritarian rule nationwide if lawlessness worsens beyond control.
Looking exasperated, Duterte warned that he would place problematic government agencies under his office so he could supervise them directly. He has publicly fired several officials for alleged corruption, excessive foreign trips and other unspecified wrongdoings.
“I’m warning all of you criminals, all, in government or outside of it. I will make radical changes in the days to come,” he said. “For those offices which could no longer be put under control, I will place you under the office of the president. I’ll be the one you’ll face every day.”
It’s unclear what triggered the volatile leader’s latest outburst.
The 73-year-old former city mayor drew widespread condemnation at home after he kissed a married Filipina on the lips in front of thousands of Filipino workers in a town hall meeting in Seoul.
He has repeatedly lashed out at US and European officials, UN rights experts and watchdogs for raising alarm over his bloody crackdown against illegal drugs. His administration has also been blamed for rising inflation after it pushed through with a government tax reform package and for being soft on China in South China Sea disputes.
During the news conference, Duterte asked before a reporter had a chance to speak, “What is your question, about the kissing?” The president went on to explain that the controversial act was “pure showbiz” done without malice and aimed at entertaining the huge Filipino crowd.
“That’s my style … There is nothing wrong in a simple kiss (and) you cause an uproar. They’re just envious,” the president said, although he acknowledged that he may be confronted by his two daughters when he returns home.
The kissing episode sparked another uproar when an official and one of Duterte’s fierce backers, Mocha Uson, uploaded a video that showed late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. being kissed by a woman on board a plane shortly before he was assassinated by soldiers at Manila airport in 1983. Aquino’s killing sparked protests that ousted then President Ferdinand Marcos three years later.
Aquino’s daughter and popular actress Kris Aquino slammed Uson in emotional remarks and warned she would confront her if Uson did anything that would besmirch the reputation of her parents, who are revered pro-democracy champions in the Philippines.