Philippine leader jokes he used marijuana at summit meeting

Maria Ressa an executive of online news platform Rappler shows her arrest warrant and release order after posting bail for tax evasion charges at Regional Trial Court Branch 265 in Pasig City Metro Manila

Maria Ressa an executive of online news platform Rappler shows her arrest warrant and release order after posting bail for tax evasion charges at Regional Trial Court Branch 265 in Pasig City Metro Manila

Mr Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs which has left thousands of mostly urban poor dwellers dead has drawn condemnation by western governments and United Nations bodies.

According to police, nearly 5,000 suspects have been killed in counter-narcotics operations between June 2016, when Duterte took office, and December 2017.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his speech after leading the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Panguil Bay Bridge in Tubod, Lanao del Norte on November 28, 2018.

"Everybody is entitled to a joke", Panelo told reporters at a Palace briefing. "If the judiciary finds probable cause for an information filed, then we have to respect the law on the matter", Panelo said. "It's the opposite, so obviously there was no logic there, so he was joking", local outlet ABS/CBN News reported.

The president complained of his tight schedules in previous meetings, saying he could "not handle" them. "It's a killing activity".

"But at my age, I am not really bothered because I take marijuana to stay awake", he told the crowd, who laughed in response.

Duterte, after his speech, told reporters he had been joking but a human rights activist criticized the attempt at humor.

Marijuana, or cannabis, is illegal in the Philippines and is not a stimulant.

The President added: "Of course it was a joke".

In several interviews, he has also said that he is open to the use of medical marijuana.

The President believes medicinal marijuana is "an ingredient of modern medicine".

Panelo rejected claims that President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself had a hand at Ressa's arrest warrant since he has repeatedly slammed Rappler for being critical of his war on drugs and other policies.

But Salvador Panelo, the presidential spokesman, disputed Ressa's statement, claiming that Duterte had nothing to do with the filing of tax evasion and possibly other criminal charges against her and Rappler.

"One joke does not make him a bad leader", he added.

But he repeated the joke later on Monday when asked about extending martial law on the island of Mindanao, he said: "It might be during the cabinet meeting, after the pot session, so we can think clearly", The Guardian reported.

Duterte's comment was bound to upset families of the victims of his crackdown on narcotics. Duterte's drug war has killed at least 4,000 people, based on police records but human rights groups allege the fatalities are three times more than that.

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