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‘Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,' Duterte says in fiery speech
[MANILA] Philippine lawmakers were unable to ratify a deal Monday that would have ended a yearslong Muslim rebellion, denying President Rodrigo Duterte the chance to announce a piece of positive news in an annual speech he delivered to Congress in Manila.
Shorn of that opportunity, Duterte, 73, used much of his third annual state of the nation address to defend his deadly war on drug users and dealers, saying he would not be cowed by human rights advocates.
"When illegal drug operations turn nasty and bloody, advocates of human rights mock our law enforcers and this administration to no end," he said. "Sadly, I have yet to really hear howls of protest from human rights advocates and church leaders against drug lordism, drug dealing and drug pushing as forceful and vociferous."
"Your concern is human rights," Mr Duterte added. "Mine is human lives."
Mr Duterte, who has faced international opprobrium for the drug crackdown, had hoped to use the state of the nation address to announce an autonomy agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group.
But a leadership row in the House of Representatives scuttled a vote on that legislation, known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law. Instead, Mr Duterte promised that the law would be ratified within 48 hours.
Manila brokered a deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front four years ago, but Congress has yet to pass the legislation that would give Muslims an autonomous region in the restive southern part of the Philippines, a majority Catholic country.
That left Mr Duterte to concentrate on his anti-narcotics push. "The war against illegal drugs is far from over," he said. "Where before, the war resulted in the seizure of illegal drugs worth millions of pesos, today they run into billions in peso value."
Sen Risa Hontiveros, a vocal critic of the president, said Mr Duterte's speech was well delivered but short on facts.
"We know the real state of the nation," Ms Hontiveros said. "The widespread killings, corruption, sexism and the surrender of our islands."
Thousands of activists protested in Manila before the president's speech. But despite criticism from opposition politicians and international organizations, Mr Duterte remains popular in the Philippines, said Ramon Casiple, a political analyst with the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, a research and advocacy group.
"I think the support for his anti-drug campaign is still high," Mr Casiple said, but "he needs to do more for economic inclusivity concerns."