MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Rodrigo Duterte will likely defend his deadly anti-drug campaign and his non-confrontational approach to China in territorial disputes when he addresses a joint session of the Philippine Congress later Monday.
The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva voted earlier this month to look into the campaign, in which thousands of drug suspects have died.
In his state of the nation address at the House of Representatives, Duterte will likely discuss his plans to press on with his battles against drugs, criminality, corruption, communist and Muslim insurgencies, and how he plans to sustain economic growth in his final three years in power, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
More than 5,200 protesters began to gather despite a downpour outside the House complex to call for his removal while a smaller number of pro-Duterte supporters rallied separately. Left-wing protesters burned a mock Chinese flag and a giant mural with the images of Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump in initial rallies.
"We have had enough of this government's 'kill, kill, kill' policy," Danilo Ramos, a left-wing leader of a farmers' group, said. "The Duterte presidency is killing its constituents in so many ways."
Military and police have been placed on full alert. Authorities declared a no-fly zone over the venue and outlying areas to ensure security.
Duterte, 74, took office in June 2016 and has remained hugely popular in opinion polling despite drug war deaths that have sparked international alarm and other controversial policies.
More of his allies captured congressional seats in midterm elections in May, giving them a tighter grip on the legislature, especially in the 24-member Senate, which opposed some of his key legislative proposals last year, including reinstating the death penalty and amending the pro-democracy constitution.
Ahead of the president's late-afternoon speech, House members met to uphold Duterte's recommendation to settle a leadership row through a term-sharing arrangement. Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunchly loyal Duterte ally, is to serve as House speaker for 15 months, followed by another presidential ally, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.
Last year, Duterte's speech was delayed after a leadership squabble erupted between two allies vying for the House speakership in a chaotic scene that unraveled on live TV. Duterte stayed in a holding room until the confusion was sorted out.
Aides said Duterte may touch on the resolution adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council two weeks ago.
Duterte's officials have lashed out at the resolution as Western meddling in the country's anti-crime efforts. Panelo said the president was considering cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland, which initiated the resolution.
Human rights groups, however, have lauded the resolution as crucial to helping end the drug killings and bringing perpetrators to justice.
Officials have reported that more than 5,000 to 6,000 mostly poor drug suspects have died in the campaign after they allegedly fired back at law enforcers during raids.
Rights groups have questioned the police reports and accused the police of committing extrajudicial killings.
Duterte has also said he would "educate" critics on the legality of an agreement he said he forged with Chinese President Xi Jinping that allows Chinese fishermen to fish in the country's exclusive economic zone. Critics say Duterte's action violated the constitution, which requires presidents to protect the country's territory and sovereign rights.