MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte does not endorse extrajudicial killings, his spokesman said on Saturday (June 11) after scathing criticism from the United Nations chief over his plans for thousands of people to die in an unprecedented war on crime.
Mr Duterte won last month's elections by a landslide largely due to an explosive law-and-order platform in which he pledged to end crime within six months by killing tens of thousands of suspected criminals. He has since offered large bounties to security forces as well as the general public to kill drug traffickers.
However his spokesman insisted on Saturday that Mr Duterte did not support extrajudicial killings. "The President-elect has not endorsed - cannot - and will never endorse extrajudicial killings, they being contrary to law," Mr Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
"He does not condone the killing of journalists nor any citizen for that matter, regardless of its purpose."
Mr Panelo said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon believed "incorrect news reports" when he condemned Mr Duterte's apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings.
Mr Ban said in a speech in New York on Wednesday that he was "extremely disturbed" by Mr Duterte's remarks, voicing particular concern over his comments seen as justifying killing journalists.
Mr Duterte, who takes office on June 30, told reporters last week that journalists who took bribes or engaged in other corrupt activities were legitimate targets of assassination.
"Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a bitch," he said.
Mr Duterte cited the case of Mr Jun Pala, a journalist and politician whose 2003 murder, like those of scores of other journalists killed in the Philippines, has never been solved.
"I do not want to diminish his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it," Mr Duterte said.
His comments sparked outrage from local and foreign media groups, warning that his rhetoric could incite more murders in one of the world's most dangerous nations for reporters.
One of the deadliest attacks against journalists happened in the Philippines in 2009, when 32 journalists were among 58 people killed by a warlord clan bent on stopping a rival's election challenge.
More than 100 people are on trial for the massacre, including many members of the Ampatuan family accused of orchestrating it. Mr Panelo was the Ampatuans' defence lawyer until last year.
Mr Duterte has previously been linked with vigilante "death squads" that rights groups say killed more than 1,000 people in the southern city of Davao, which he has ruled as mayor for most of the past two decades.