President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Emerging Infectious Diseases core members at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on October 5, 2020. SIMEON CELI/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Rodrigo Duterte was speaking “from the heart” when he said he had never killed anyone in his latest public address, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Duterte on numerous occasions had claimed personal responsibility for the policy of killing drug suspects and said he himself had killed criminals.

But on Monday night, Duterte claimed he had never killed a person.

“Wala ho akong pinatay na tao. Magtanong ka ng isang pulis dito sa Pilipinas, magtanong ka kay Secretary Año sa DILG, magtanong ka kay Delfin Lorenzana, at may inutusan ba akong taong sinabi, ‘Patayin mo ito si Mr. Santos, Edmundo Santos, o patayin mo ito si Juan dela Cruz.’ I never do that,” he said.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte was only using “colorful” language to get attention for his campaign against illegal drugs.

“Bagama’t ang presidente po ay makulay sa kaniyang pananalita, it is to actually generate attention and discussion lalung-lalo na pagdating sa kaniyang pet issue, iyong anti-drugs campaign,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.

“Pero kagabi po, I think the president was speaking from the heart,” he added.

In September 2018, Duterte admitted that his “only sin” were the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in his anti-drug campaign.

Malacañang has repeatedly maintained that deaths being pinned on Duterte’s “war on drugs” were because of legitimate police anti-drug operations.

But the UN Human Rights Office, in a report in June, recommended international investigations into serious human rights violations in the Philippines, saying the government had emboldened perpetrators, who have escaped accountability.

The report, prepared by the UN Human Rights Office in response to last year’s resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, said the Duterte government’s drug war and national security approach had led to killings, arbitrary detentions and a crackdown on dissent

“Given the widespread and systematic nature of the alleged killings, and the failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability thus far, there have been strong calls for an international accountability mechanism,” said the 26-page report, submitted ahead of the council’s 44th session.

The report said at least 8,663 people have been killed since the drug war began in 2016, although estimates by non-government groups were three times higher. At least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists have been killed in relation to their work between 2015 and 2019, it said.

The UN office said there has been “near impunity for these killings, with only one conviction for the killing of a drug suspect in a police operation since mid-2016.” John Ezekiel J. Hirro