MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Monday (July 25) to show "no mercy" in his bloody war on crime, warning criminals that priests and human rights advocates cannot protect them from being killed.
A defiant Duterte devoted a large chunk of his inaugural "State of the Nation" address to his law and order campaign, which has claimed hundreds of lives since he took office on June 30.
"Show no mercy to them because they are not showing any mercy to us anyway," Duterte told lawmakers as he summarised his orders to security forces to eliminate alleged drug lords.
Duterte, 71, won the May election in a landslide after promising quickly to eradicate crime by unleashing security forces with shoot-to-kill orders, and vowing that tens of thousands of people would die.
Police have reported killing more than 200 drug suspects, or an average of 11 per day, since he assumed office. Police have insisted they have only killed people in self-defence.
Media tallies have put the death toll far higher, taking into account the many bullet-riddled or stabbed corpses that have been found on streets across the nation.
ABS-CBN television has recorded 544 deaths since election day.
On Monday Duterte declared there would be no let-up in the campaign, ordering police and local officials to "double your efforts, triple them if need be".
"We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground if they so wish," he said to loud cheers.
Duterte's message has proved wildly popular with many Filipinos. He scored an unprecedented trust rating of 91 per cent in a survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia this month.
Church groups, rights advocates and some sections of the media have criticised the war on crime and expressed alarm at what they have termed extrajudicial killings.
A major newspaper carried a front-page photo on Sunday of a weeping woman holding the body of a man who had been shot dead on a Manila street by unidentified gunmen on a motorbike.
"You are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. Let's do drama here," Duterte said in his speech in response to outrage by some over the photo.
"If you don't want to die, if you don't want to get hurt, don't rely on priests and human rights (advocates). That won't stop death."
In the 90-minute speech, Duterte also announced a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels waging a decades-long insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Duterte also outlined a range of measures to help address many daily grievances of Filipinos, including plans for new trains and airports to help end transport chaos, as well as free internet wifi in public parks.