Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has told his military to “shoot” him if he violates the country’s constitution and stays beyond his mandated term in office.
In a speech to military personnel, Duterte reportedly sought to dismiss claims he was planning to rewrite the country’s constitution to allow him to extend his term beyond 2022.
“If I extend my term even by just one day, I am now asking the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PNP (Philippine National Police) not to allow me or anybody else to mess up with the Constitution,” he said.
“If I overstay and wanted to become a dictator, shoot me, I am not joking,” he added. “It is your job to protect the constitution and to protect the people. Remember, it is your solemn duty.”
Duterte has long advocated amending the country’s constitution towards a more federal system of government, which he claims will help fight deep-rooted corruption, promote economic growth, and allow him to provide greater resources to parts of the country perceived to have been neglected by the federal government in Manila.
He has proposed restricting his own executive authority and that of key government officials in any new constitutional draft, although the move would also allow him to serve two terms in office.
Last week, Duterte’s allies in the lower house of Congress approved the convention of a constituent assembly to amend the constitution by May, meaning the postponement of midterm elections and the extension of terms for all lawmakers.
The leader has attracted international condemnation since his election in 2016 and has been accused of a series of human rights abuses as part of his crackdown on corruption, drug trafficking, communism, and the Islamic State that has left around 7,000 people dead.
Opponents fear that Duterte’s heavy-handed form of governance is reminiscent of the late Filipino leader Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country as a military dictator from 1965 to 1986. However, Duterte retains extraordinarily high approval ratings of around 80 percent, making him one of the most popular world leaders.
Concerns were also raised last week about freedom of the press after authorities revoked the operating license of Rappler, one of the country’s most popular news websites.
Duterte has denied any such crackdown on the press and argued the company was violating a constitutional clause requiring all media organizations to be owned by Filipino citizens after it received funding from eBay founder Pierre Morad Omidyar.