Duterte to build army to 'fight on all fronts'

This article is more than 12 months old

Philippine President says he will build bigger military and continue drug war

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he would build a military over the next two years that could fight on all fronts by recruiting up to 40,000 new soldiers, and buying planes and drones to tackle communist and Islamist rebels.

Mr Duterte said security threats had increased in the Philippines and the military needed more troops and more modern equipment to meet those challenges.

"Today's demand necessitates an army that is strong," he told reporters. "I will build an armed forces that can fight on all fronts everywhere."

He said he was prepared to "wait it out" before retaking Marawi City from Islamic State-inspired rebels holed up there for two months because protecting civilians and hostages in the conflict zone was of paramount importance.

He also vowed to press on with his controversial drug war that has claimed thousands of lives, as he outlined his vision of an "eye-for-an-eye" justice system.

Mr Duterte devoted large chunks of his speech to pushing his law-and-order policies that have made him hugely popular with many Filipinos, but have been condemned by human rights groups and other critics.

"No matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because that is the root cause of so much evil and so much suffering," Mr Duterte told lawmakers from both houses of Congress.

"The fight will be... unrelenting despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease, they have to stop because the alternatives are either jail or hell."

Mr Duterte swept to victory in last year's presidential election after promising an unprecedented crackdown on drugs in which tens of thousands of people would die.

Since he took office on June 30 last year, police have reported killing nearly 3,200 people in the drug war.

More than 2,000 other people have been killed in drug-related crimes, according to police data.

Rights groups say many of those victims have been killed by vigilante death squads linked to the government.

Mr Duterte also urged lawmakers to reintroduce the death penalty.

"I ask Congress to act on legislation to reimpose the death penalty on heinous crimes, especially illegal drug trafficking," he said.

He emphasised that capital punishment was about "retribution" as much as deterrence.

"In the Philippines, it is really an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth. You took a life, you must pay it to die. That is the only way to get even." - WIRE SERVICES