VIENTIANE The Philippines on Tuesday defended a surge in killings since Rodrigo Duterte became president over two months ago, handing out a 38-page pamphlet at a regional summit praising his campaign against illegal drugs in which thousands have died.
"We are not butchers who just kill people for no apparent reason," reads one page of the booklet, citing the Philippines' feisty national police chief, Ronald Dela Rosa.
The pamphlet was distributed at a Southeast Asian and East Asian summit in Laos that was overshadowed on Tuesday by the cancellation of a meeting between Duterte and Barack Obama after he referred to the U.S. president as a "son of a bitch".
Duterte swept to power in May on promises to wipe out crime and corruption within six months, pledging to wage a war on drug dealers and crush widespread addiction to methamphetamines in the country of 100 million.
There has been popular support for Duterte's campaign but the killings have brought expressions of concern from the United States, a close Philippine ally, and the United Nations.
Last week, the number of people killed since July 1 reached 2,400: about 900 died in police operations, they said, and the rest were "deaths under investigation", a term human rights activists say is a euphemism for vigilante and extrajudicial killings.
Duterte said on Tuesday he regretted that his comments to media on Friday "came across as a personal attack" on Obama. His government said in a separate statement the fight against illegal drugs must be won.
"The campaign against illegal drugs has yielded an unprecedented number of 'surrenderees': more than 600,000," said the glossy pamphlet, which features various photographs of Duterte, including one of him attending the funeral of a senior police officer allegedly shot dead by a drug peddler.
The booklet said that since Duterte took office 7,532 drug operations had been carried out, 12,972 pushers and users had been arrested, and police operations in July reduced crime by 49 percent from a year earlier.
"Can you believe it's only been two months into the Duterte presidency?" the final page reads.
(Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by John Chalmers)