Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte would never undermine the country's constitution, his spokesman insisted Wednesday, after the hardline leader appeared to suggest the introduction of martial law to help pursue an anti-drugs crackdown.
Duterte made the martial law comment in a speech late Tuesday. The remark was addressed to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Sereno had questioned allegations made by Duterte that seven judges were involved in the illegal drugs trade, and had cautioned the judges against surrendering without arrest warrants.
“If you keep stopping me and (the problem) spins out of control, would you rather I declare martial law?” Duterte said in the speech.
“The president merely asked a rhetorical question and said it under the context that his anti-drug campaign cannot wait for the slow wheels of justice,” Communication Secretary Martin Andanar said on Wednesday.
“The president has made use of executive powers at his disposal, knowing fully well the limits of these powers, and without undermining the constitutional separation of powers nor infringing upon the rights of citizens,” Andanar said.
Judges, mayors, vice mayors, governors, members of Congress, police officers and soldiers were included in Duterte's list of officials with alleged links the illegal drugs trade. Dozens of those named have turned themselves in to police for investigation.
Since Duterte took office on June 30, more than 500 suspects have been killed in the anti-drug campaign, while more than half a million users and pushers have surrendered. Police said most of those killed resisted arrest or fought back.