President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody war on drugs has killed thousands of people in the Philippines, said Monday he smokes weed to stay awake during official meetings.
Duterte made the claim in a speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs, addressing questions about his absence from several meetings at the Asean Summit in Singapore last month.
The president said the meetings were a “killing activity” and complained about the 8:30 a.m starts. “Maybe the ASEAN secretariat thinks we are boy scouts?” the president, a known night owl, said.
“But at my age, I am not really bothered, because I take marijuana to stay awake.” The crowd laughed in response.
When Duterte was later asked about extending martial law on the island of Mindanao, he again referenced weed, saying the decision would be made “during the Cabinet meeting, after the pot session, so we can think clearly.”
In the Philippines, possession of marijuana carries a hefty prison sentence.
Duterte had previously admitted using fentanyl but dismissed criticism, claiming it was a painkiller and different from the illegal drugs he has targeted.
Talking to reporters Monday, Duterte brushed off the quotes as a joke.
The president’s comments came days after three police officers were sentenced to 40 years for murdering 17-year-old Kian Lloyd delos Santos, who was wrongly suspected of being a drug dealer.
The teenager was the latest victim in Duterte’s violent crackdown, a campaign that has claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people since 2016.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed Monday that the president was just joking. “Obviously it was just a joke; he was only jesting. The president's style is to make jokes to lighten the mood.”
Asked again about Duterte’s claims Tuesday, Panelo explained how to interpret his boss’s comments: “The test there is, if there's no logic, you are just joking. If the audience is laughing, you are joking.”
Duterte’s weed comments are the latest in a long line of brash claims made by the strongman leader, which were later dismissed as a joke:
- In September he said his only “sin” had been conducting extrajudicial killings — before a spokesman said the president was simply being “playful.”
- Back in December 2016, Duterte appeared to confirm what until then had been a rumor: “If you are corrupt, I will fetch you with a helicopter and I will throw you out on the way to Manila. I have done that before. Why should I not do it again?” He later dismissed the claim as the “creative imagination” of a journalist.
- Earlier this year, Duterte walked back a claim he made during the 2016 election, that he would travel to an island occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea on a Jet Ski and plant a flag to assert Manila's claim over the disputed territory.
Cover image: Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte before a breakfast event on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. (Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)